Portrait of a Naval Officer

Oil on canvas, dated 1652
Image size: 27 3/4 x 24 inches (70 x 61 cm)
Original frame

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This handsome portrait, painted during the Interregnum, depicts a naval officer standing in front of a red curtain with a man-of-war visible sailing on rough seas in the distance.  Painted in the old English style, it has a pleasant and slightly naive quality, reminiscent of portraiture from the Elizabethan era.  Like most portraits of the wealthier classes from the 16th and 17th centuries, the sitter’s expression is characterised by a self-composed stillness. The officer’s face is relatively smooth and flat, and the detail has been lavished on depicting his costume, in particular picking out the smooth white tassels and fine patterning of the lace of his collar.

As discussed in detail by Ribeiro, it is a popular misconception that there was a marked difference in dress between parliamentarians and Royalists during the Civil War and Interregnum (see Ribeiro, A. Fashion and Fiction: Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England, London, (2005), pp189-202).  The Civil War had divided classes relatively evenly and, as a whole, it was only the extreme sectors of society, such as the puritans, who notably reflected their political views in the way that they dressed.  The sitter in this portrait cuts a dashing figure and his appearance and dress would have been distinctly a la mode in 1652, the year this portrait was painted. The gentleman’s beard and moustache are small and neatly trimmed and his deep red hair is carefully groomed and worn in the new short and full style, which came into fashion in the early 1650’s. He is depicted wearing a black doublet in the short and loose cut, popular in the 1650’s and 1660’s, with long slits running down the sleeves to reveal much of the linen shirt underneath.