This exhibition is described as a Tudor Mystery! It centres on an artist whose identity has never been discovered, but has always been referred to as the Master of the Countess of Warwick. The inspiration for this show is a work of art in the Compton Verney British Portraits collection – the portrait of Thomas Knyvett who was a member of the Elizabethan elite, 4th Baron Berners, High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1579.
The picture shows him as a very dashing young man, dressed in a white slashed doublet and outrageously wide breeches. The portrait is by an unknown artist, so the investigation has been, through comparison with other Tudor paintings, to try to identify who he was. Along with other works this one is very similar to the portrait of Anne Dudley, Countess of Warwick, which hangs in the collection of Woburn Abbey, None of the paintings are signed, but they are dated and share similar characteristics – stiff upright posture, slight angling of the head, soft fuzzy hair and all have really detailed outfits and jewellery. But most notable is the way the faces are painted to look really lifelike – the skin is built up in a series of paint layers to enhance the bone structure and facial details are realistic, even to the point of showing a blue vein on the temple of Anne Dudley.
Roy Strong worked on various theories and identified eight portraits as being by the Master, but now that number is reaching almost fifty, with perhaps many more still unidentified in private collections.
In the 16th century many artists came to London to seek work. One of these was Hans Eworth from Antwerp who arrived in the 1540s. The unknown artist has been described as painting in the manner of Eworth and we see some works by him in this exhibition, so that we can make comparisons. By looking at the entries of all those who arrived in London in this period and looking at where they went to work it has been possible to single out one artist who went to work in the studio of Hans Eworth – Arnold Derickson! So was he the mystery artist? We will never know for sure, but whoever he was, he was hugely talented and his paintings of 16th century nobles keeps that part of our history well and truly alive!