1600 - 1681
Portrait of a Judge

Oil on canvas, on board
Image size: 30 1/4 x 27 inches (76.75 x 68.5 cm)
Contemporary style handmade frame


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This is a attention-holding portrait of a 17th century English judge in his judicial robes. The unknown man is seated from the waist up, against a plain background. He wears the red robes and bands of a judge of the mid 17th century with a skullcap over his natural hair.

It is likely that this man was a judge in a ‘fire court’ and is probably Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676). After the Great Fire of London in 1666 tenants were also supposed to pay rent while their burned houses were being rebuilt. This was clearly untenable and so an emergency ‘Fire Court’ was set up to sort out disputes that arose out of the rebuilding, such as who should pay to rebuild. The judges had the power to decide who should rebuild, based on ability to pay, and could cancel contracts. This stopped disputes from dragging on and enabled Londoners to rebuild as soon as possible. The Court sat in Cliffords Inn and held its first session on 27 February 1667 and last in September 1672.


Gilbert Soest
Gerard Soest (circa 1600 – 11 February 1681), also known as Gerald Soest, was a portrait painter who was active in England during the late 17th century. He is most famous for his portraits of William Shakespeare and Samuel Butler, but painted many members of the English gentry.

Soest was traditionally thought to have come from Soest in Westphalia, but was probably from Soest, Netherlands, being Dutch by birth and training. He seems to have been in England by the late 1640s, and his paintings at this time show the influence of William Dobson. His earliest known work is dated 1646.

He had a moderately successful career, but was never fashionable and never managed to get commissions from courtiers and royalty.

Soest’s portrait of Shakespeare was owned by Thomas Wright of Covent Garden in 1725 when it was engraved by John Simon. It was painted by Soest at least 30 years after Shakespeare’s death. George Vertue states that it was based on a man who resembled Shakespeare, while the pose and costume suggest the influence of the Chandos portrait.