17th Century
Portrait of a Melancholic Gentleman

Oil on canvas
Image size: 25 x 29 1/4 inches (63.5 x 72.25 cm)



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This is a striking 17th century half-portrait of a man. He sits with his body turned to the left and his head to the right. His left hand is held in front of him with thumb and finger together. He wears a loose white shirt that is opened low down onto chest while being closed at his neck with a black ribbon. An orange cloak has also been draped across his arms in a rather dramatic manner.

This choice of costume is immediately notable and must be compared to other portraits of this time of Elizabethan courtiers wearing slashed silk outfits with ostentatious finery and silver swords. Indeed, if one examines 17th century English portraiture it becomes clear that often artists focused on the rich layers of decoration and luxurious fabrics of the wearers. The hope was that the illusion of the materials would, in turn, give the viewer the allusion of the sitter’s position.

Here, we are not given finery or the exuberance of lavishly painted silk or lace. Instead, we are presented with a stripped back scene where the main impression is of a melancholic attitude and a deep intellectualism. With his loose long hair, form of undress and self-aware pose, it is clear that the gentleman is deliberately presenting himself in a melancholic manner. This became increasingly popular in the 17th century and can be seen in the work of van Dyck and Cornelius Johnson.