Rare portrait of Jacobean brothers to sell

Dreweatts auctioneers is excited to offer one of the earliest instances of sibling affection between brothers in British art. The grand Jacobean double portrait was painted in 1606 and shows Thomas Pope, 3rd Earl of Downe (1598-1668) and his elder brother Sir William Pope, 2nd Earl of Downe (1596-1624) at the ages of eight and ten. They appear to be the picture of familial harmony, which is demonstrated through their matching clothes and the holding of hands. This carried an important message for the nobility, whose portraits celebrated family lineage.

Jacobean double portrait of Thomas and William Pope

Commenting on the work Dreweatts specialist Anne Gerritsen said: “Such affection between siblings was rarely seen previously in British portraiture. While I am aware of a few slightly earlier examples of sisters holding hands, I have never seen such an early work of brothers portrayed in such an intimate gesture.”

She continues, “At the same time, the positioning of the boys in broad poses gives them considerable authority, despite only being young children.”

“Tudor and Jacobean portraits are particularly notable for their overt messaging through Latin inscriptions, but other subtleties that would have been clear to contemporaries are often more difficult to interpret. Even though we might not understand these works in exactly the same way as in the early 17th century, these portraits are still so sought after because of the presence that they convey, the appeal of reading a person as much as an object. They are glimpses of long-lost individuals whose portrait only survived because it retained significance for all of their successive owners, which is quite a special thing.”

While Jacobean art would usually have Latin inscriptions detailing the age of the sitter and the date of the work, portrait painters of this period hardly ever signed their work, so the painter of this painting remains a mystery. The painting however has been associated with Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1636), an important British painter of Flemish origin, who also worked at the Tudor court and was one of the most celebrated portrait painters of the time. Gheeraerts did paint other members of the Pope family, including the boys’ mother Anne Hopton in 1596, while she was pregnant with William, so this is highly plausible. The oil on canvas will be offered in Dreweatts’ Old Master, British and European Art Sale on December 14, 2022, with an estimate of £40,000-£60,000.