Robert Peake the Elder

Robert Peake the Elder

Robert Peake the Elder (c. 1551 – 1619) was an English painter active in the later part of Elizabeth I's reign and for most of the reign of James I. In 1604, he was appointed picture maker to the heir to the throne, Prince Henry, and in 1607, serjeant-painter to King James I, a post he shared with John De Critz. [Strong, Roy C. "Elizabethan Painting: An Approach Through Inscriptions, 1: Robert Peake the Elder", "The Burlington Magazine", Vol. 105, No. 719 (February 1963), 53–57 (retrieved 12 January, 2008).] Peake is often called “the Elder”, to distinguish him from his son, the painter and printseller William Peake (c. 1580–1639) and from his grandson, Sir Robert Peake (c. 1605–1667), who followed his father into the family print-selling business. [In the accounts for Prince Henry's funeral, Robert Peake is called "Mr Peake the elder painter" and William Peake "Mr Peake the younger painter". Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver", 155.
• Peake’s grandson Sir Robert Peake (sometimes wrongly called his son) was knighted by King Charles I during the English Civil War. The Parliamentarians captured him after their siege of Basing House, which was under his command. Walpole, "Anecdotes of Painting", 221.

Peake was the only English-born painter of a group of four artists whose workshops were closely connected. The others were De Critz, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, and the miniature painter Isaac Oliver. Between 1590 and about 1625, they specialised in brilliantly coloured, full-length "costume pieces" that are unique to England at this time. ["There is nothing like them in contemporary European painting". Waterhouse, "Painting in Britain", 41.] It is not always possible to attribute authorship between Peake, De Critz, Gheeraerts and their assistants with certainty. [Waterhouse, "Painting in Britain", 41.]


Early life and work

Peake was born to a Lincolnshire family in about 1551. [Hearn, "Dynasties", 186.] He began his training on 30 April 1565 under Laurence Woodham, [Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver", 153.] who lived at the sign of “The Key” in Goldsmith’s Row, Westcheap; ["The Key" would have been a sign, identifying Woodham's shop and house, as was usual before street-numbering.] he was apprenticed, three years after the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, to the Goldsmiths’ Company in London. [It was once assumed that Peake was much younger than Hilliard: in 1969, art historian Roy Strong called him Hilliard’s “most important follower among the younger generation” ("The English Icon," 19). Edmond, "New Light on Jacobean Painters", 74.] He became a freeman of the company on 20 May 1576. His son, William, later followed in his father's footsteps as a freeman of the Goldsmiths' Company and a portrait painter. [Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver," 153.] Peake’s training would have been similar to that of John de Critz and Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, who may have been pupils of the Flemish artist Lucas de Heere. [Waterhouse, "Painting in Britain", 43.]

Peake is first heard of professionally in 1576 in the pay of the Office of the Revels, the department that oversaw court festivities for Elizabeth I. When Peake began practising as a portrait painter is uncertain, [Weiss (2001 and 2006) judges Peake's earliest attributed works to be the portraits of Arthur, Lord Grey de Wilton, and Humphrey Wingfield, dated 1587, following Strong's "English Icon" of 1969. The portrait of Anne Knollys attributed to Peake in the Berger Collection at the Denver Art Museum, however, bears Peake's characteristic inscription and is dated 1582.] According to art historian Roy Strong, he was "well established" in London by the late 1580s, with a "fashionable clientèle". [Strong, "English Icon", 225.] Payments made to him for portraits are recorded in the Rutland accounts at Belvoir in the 1590s.Strong, "An Approach Through Inscriptions", 53.] A signed portrait from 1593, known as the “Military Commander”, shows Peake’s early style. Other portraits have been grouped with it on the basis of similar lettering.Waterhouse, "Painting in Britain", 43.] Its three-quarter-length portrait format is typical of the time.

Painter to Prince Henry

In 1607, after the death of Leonard Fryer, [Fryer had been serjeant-painter since 1595.] Peake was appointed serjeant-painter to King James I, sharing the office with John De Critz, who had held the post since 1603. The role entailed the painting of original portraits and their reproduction as new versions, to be given as gifts or sent to foreign courts, as well as the copying and restoring of portraits by other painters in the royal collection. The serjeant-painters also undertook decorative tasks, such as the painting of banners and stage scenery. [Gaunt, "Court Painting in England", 53.] Parchment rolls of the Office of the Works record that De Critz oversaw the decorating of royal houses and palaces. Since Peake’s work is not recorded there, it seems as if De Critz took responsibility for the more decorative tasks, while Peake continued his work as a royal portrait painter. [Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver", 153.]

In 1610, Peake was described as "painter to Prince Henry",Waterhouse, "Painting in Britain", 43.] the sixteen-year old prince who was gathering around him a significant cultural salon. Peake commissioned a translation of Sebastiano Serlio’s "The First Booke of Architecture", which he dedicated to the prince in 1611. [Hearn, "Dynasties", 186.] Scholars have deduced from payments made to Peake that his position as painter to Prince Henry led to his appointment as serjeant-painter to the king.Waterhouse, "Painting in Britain", 43.] The payments are listed by Sir David Murray as disbursements to Prince Henry from the Privy Purse, to pay "Mr Peck". On 14 October 1608, Peake was paid £7 for "pictures made by His Highness’ command", and on 14 July 1609 £3 "for a picture of His Highness which was given in exchange for the King’s picture". At about the same time, Isaac Oliver was paid £5.10s.0d. for each of three miniatures of the prince. Murray’s accounts reveal, however, that the prince was paying more for tennis balls than for any picture. [Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver," 153. In April 1509, the prince paid £8 for tennis balls, in May £7.10s.0d., and in June £8.14s.0d.]

Peake is also listed in Sir David Murray's accounts for the period 1 October 1610 to 6 November 1612, drawn up to the day on which Henry, Prince of Wales, died, possibly of typhoid fever, [Letter writer John Chamberlain (1553–1628) recorded: "It was verily thought that the disease was no other than the ordinary that had reigned and raged all over England. . . . The extremity of the disease seemed to lie in his head, for remedy whereof they shaved him and applied warm cocks and pigeons newly killed, but with no success". Letter to Dudley Carleton, 12 November 1612. "Chamberlain Letters", 67–68.
• Historian Alan Stewart notes that latter-day experts have suggested enteric fever, typhoid fever, or porphyria, but that poison was the most popular explanation at the time. Stewart, "Cradle King", 248.
] at the age of eighteen: "To Mr Peake for pictures and frames £12; two great pictures of the Prince in arms at length sent beyond the seas £50; and to him for washing, scouring and dressing of pictures and making of frames £20.4s.0d." [Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver", 154. The relatively high price for the two pictures of the prince in arms (armour) may have been due to the use of gold or silver on the details.] Peake is listed in the accounts for Henry’s funeral under "Artificers and officers of the Works" as "Mr Peake the elder painter". For the occasion, he was allotted seven yards of mourning cloth, plus four for a servant. Also listed is "Mr Peake the younger painter", meaning Robert's son William, who was allotted four yards of mourning cloth. [Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver," 155.]

After the prince's death, Peake moved on to the household of Henry's brother, Charles, Duke of York, the future Charles I of England. The accounts for 1616, which call Peake the prince’s painter, record that he was paid £35 for "three several pictures of his Highness". [Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver," 174.] On 10 July 1613, he was paid £13.6s.8d. by the vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, "in full satisfaction for Prince Charles his picture", for a full-length portrait which is still in the Cambridge University Library.Hearn, "Dynasties", 189.]


Peake died in 1619, probably in mid-October. [Edmond, "New Light on Jacobean Painters", 74. Until relatively recently, it was believed that Peake died later. Erna Auerbach, "Tudor Artists", London, 1954, p. 148, put his death at around 1625, for example. The catalogue for "The Age of Charles I" exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1972, p. 89, suggested Peake was active as late as 1635.] His will was made on 10 October 1619 and proved on the 16th. [Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver", 170, 212.] The date of his burial is unknown because the Great Fire of London later destroyed the registers of his parish church, St Sepulchre-without-Newgate. [Edmond, “New Light on Jacobean Painters”, 74. Artist William Larkin’s records were burned at the same time.] This was a time of several deaths in the artistic community. Nicholas Hilliard had died in January; Queen Anne, who had done so much to patronise the arts, in March; and the painter William Larkin, Peake’s neighbour, in April or May. [Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver," 170.] Though James I reigned until 1625, art historian Roy Strong considers that the year 1619 "can satisfactorily be accepted as the terminal date of Jacobean painting". [Quoted by Edmond, “New Light on Jacobean Painters”, 74.]


It is difficult to attribute and date portraits of this period because painters rarely signed their work, and their workshops produced portraits "en masse", often sharing standard portrait patterns. Some paintings, however, have been attributed to Peake on the basis of the method of inscribing the year and the sitter's age on his documented portrait of a "military commander" (1592), which reads: "M.BY.RO.| PEAKE" ("made by Robert Peake"). [See Strong, “An Approach Through Inscriptions”, 53–7, and "The English Icon", 225–54.] Art historian Ellis Waterhouse, however, suspected that the letterer may have worked for more than one studio. [Waterhouse, "Painting in Britain", 42–3.]

Procession Picture

The painting known as "Queen Elizabeth going in procession to Blackfriars in 1601", or simply "The Procession Picture" (see illustration), is now often accepted as the work of Peake. The attribution was made by Roy Strong, who called it "one of the great visual mysteries of the Elizabethan age".Strong, "Cult of Elizabeth," 17.] It is an example of the convention, prevalent in the later part of her reign, of painting Elizabeth as an icon, portraying her as much younger and more triumphant than she was. As Strong puts it, " [t] his is Gloriana in her sunset glory, the mistress of the set piece, of the calculated spectacular presentation of herself to her adoring subjects".Strong, "Cult of Elizabeth," 17.] George Vertue, the eighteenth-century antiquarian, called the painting "not well nor ill done". [Vertue's "Notebooks", quoted by Strong, "Cult of Elizabeth," 20.]

Strong reveals that the procession was connected to the marriage of Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert, and Lady Anne Russell, one of the queen’s six maids of honour, on 16 June 1600. [Strong, "Cult of Elizabeth," 23–30.] He identifies many of the individuals portrayed in the procession and shows that instead of a litter, as was previously assumed, Queen Elizabeth is sitting on a wheeled cart or chariot. Strong also suggests that the landscape and castles in the background are not intended to be realistic. In accordance with Elizabethan stylistic conventions, they are emblematic, here representing the Welsh properties of Edward Somerset, Earl of Worcester, to which his son Lord Herbert was the heir. [Strong, "Cult of Elizabeth", 41. The castles alluded to are Chepstow and Raglan on the Welsh borders.] The earl may have commissioned the picture to celebrate his appointment as Master of the Queen’s Horse in 1601. [For a detailed analysis, see Strong, “The Queen: "Eliza Triumphans"”, in "The Cult of Elizabeth," 17–55.]

Peake clearly did not paint the queen, or indeed the courtiers, from life but from the "types" or standard portraits used by the workshops of the day. Portraits of the queen were subject to restrictions, and from about 1594 there seems to have been an official policy that she always be depicted as youthful. In 1594, the Privy council ordered that unseemly portraits of the queen be found and destroyed, since they caused Elizabeth "great offence". [Strong, "Gloriana," 147.
• Haigh, "Elizabeth I", 153–54.
] The famous Ditchley portrait (c. 1592), by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, was used as a type, sometimes called the "Mask of Youth" face-pattern, for the remainder of the reign. It is clear that Gheeraerts' portrait provided the pattern for the queen’s image in the procession picture. [Strong, "Gloriana," 148.] Other figures also show signs of being traced from patterns, leading to infelicities of perspective and proportion. [Strong, "Gloriana," 155.]

Full-length portraits

At the beginning of the 1590s, the full-length portrait came into vogue and artistic patrons among the nobles began to add galleries of such paintings to their homes as a form of cultural ostentation.Christopher Brown, “The Turn of the Sixteenth Century”, in Hearn, "Dynasties", 171.] Peake was one of those who met the demand. He was also among the earliest English painters to explore the full-length individual or group portrait with active figures placed in a natural landscape, a style of painting that became fashionable in England. As principal painter to Prince Henry, Peake seems to have been charged with showing his patron as a dashing young warrior.John Sheeran, [ Biography of Robert Peake] at the Tate Collection (retrieved 1 January 2008).] ]

In 1603, he painted a double portrait, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, of the prince and his boyhood friend John Harington, son of Lord Harington of Exton (see above). The double portrait is set outdoors, a style introduced by Gheeraerts in the 1590s, and Peake's combination of figures with animals and landscape also foreshadows the genre of the sporting picture. [Gaunt, "Court Painting in England", 53.] The country location and recreational subject lend the painting an air of informality. The action is natural to the setting, a fenced deer-park with a castle and town in the distance. Harington holds a wounded stag by the antlers as Henry draws his sword to deliver the "coup de grâce". The prince wears at his belt a jewel of St George slaying the dragon, an allusion to his role as defender of the realm. His sword is an attribute of kingship, and the young noble kneels in his service. [Kitson, "British Painting, 1600–1800", 13.
• Strong "English Icon", 234.
] The stag is a fallow deer, a non-native species kept at that time in royal parks for hunting. A variant of this painting in the Royal Collection, painted c. 1605, features Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, in the place of John Harington and displays the Devereux arms. [Strong, "English Icon", 246.] [The coats-of-arms of the principals shown hanging from branches may reflect knowledge of the work of Lucas Cranach the Elder, who frequently used this motif, and painted portraits of Saxon and Habsburg princes hunting.]

In the same year, Peake also painted his first portrait of James I's only surviving daughter, Elizabeth. This work, like the double portrait, for which it might be a companion piece, appears to have been painted for the Harington family, who acted as Elizabeth's guardians from 1603 to 1608. [Hearn, "Dynasties", 185. It was the custom for royal children to be raised in the homes of noble families. Elizabeth lived with the Harington family at Coombe Abbey, near Coventry. Lord Harington died at Worms in 1613 on his way back from escorting her to Heidelberg with her new husband Frederick V, Elector Palatine. Lady Harington attended Elizabeth at Heidelberg from 1616 almost until her own death in 1618.] In the background of Elizabeth's portrait is a hunting scene echoing that of the double portrait, and two ladies sit on an artificial mound of a type fashionable in garden design at the time. [Hearn, "Dynasties", 185.]

Peake again painted Henry outdoors in about 1610. In this portrait, now at the Royal Palace of Turin, the prince looks hardly older than in the 1603 double portrait, but his left foot rests on a shield bearing the three-feathers device of the Prince of Wales, a title he did not hold until 1610. Henry is portrayed as a young man of action, about to draw a jewel-encrusted sword from its scabbard. The portrait was almost certainly sent to Savoy in connection with a marriage proposed in January 1611 between Henry and the Infanta Maria, daughter of Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy. [Hearn, "Dynasties", 187–88. Maria never married; she entered a Franciscan convent in 1629.]

James I's daughter Elizabeth was also a valuable marriage pawn. She too was offered to Savoy, as a bride for the Prince of Piedmont, the heir of Charles Emanuel. The exchange of portraits as part of royal marriage proposals was the practice of the day and provided regular work for the royal painters and their workshops. Prince Henry commissioned portraits from Peake to send them to the various foreign courts with which marriage negotiations were underway. The prince’s accounts show, for example, that the two portraits Peake painted of him in arms in 1611–12 were "sent beyond the seas". [Hearn, "Dynasties", 188.
• Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver," 154.

A surviving portrait from this time shows the prince in armour, mounted on a white horse and pulling the winged figure of Old Father Time by the forelock.Hearn, "Dynasties", 188.] Art historian John Sheeran suggests this is a classical allusion that signifies opportunity. The old man carries Henry's lance and plumed helmet; and scholar Chris Caple points out that his pose is similar to that of Albrecht Dürer's figure of death in "The Knight, Death and the Devil" (1513). [Caple, "Objects", 88–91.

Lady Elizabeth Pope

Peake's portrait of Lady Elizabeth Pope may have been commissioned by her husband, Sir William Pope, to commemorate their marriage in 1615. Lady Elizabeth is portrayed with her hair loose, a symbol of bridal virginity. [Brides of the time are often described as appearing "in their hair". For example, John Chamberlain wrote to Alice Carleton that Frances Carr, Countess of Somerset, was "married in her hair" to her second husband Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset, having recently divorced her first husband, Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, on the grounds of his impotence. Letter to Alice Carleton, 13 December 1613. "Chamberlain Letters", 116.
• See also Stewart, "Cradle King", 113.
] She wears a draped mantle—embroidered with seed pearls in a pattern of ostrich plumes—and a matching turban. The mantle knotted on one shoulder was worn in Jacobean court masques, as the costume designs of Inigo Jones indicate. The painting’s near-nudity, however, makes the depiction of an actual masque costume unlikely.Chirelstein, "Lady Elizabeth Pope: The Heraldic Body", in "Renaissance Bodies", 36–59.
• Ribeiro, "Fashion and Fiction", 89.] Loose hair and the classical draped mantle also figure in contemporary personifications of abstract concepts in masques and paintings. Yale art historian Ellen Chirelstein argues that Peake is portraying Lady Elizabeth as a personification of America, since her father, Sir Thomas Watson, was a major shareholder in the Virginia Company. [Chirelstein, "Lady Elizabeth Pope: The Heraldic Body", in "Renaissance Bodies", 36–59.] Chirelstein, "Lady Elizabeth Pope: The Heraldic Body", in "Renaissance Bodies", 36–59.
• Ribeiro, "Fashion and Fiction", 89.]


In 1598, Francis Meres, in his "Palladis Tamia", included Peake on a list of the best English artists.Strong, "An Approach Through Inscriptions," 53.] In 1612, Henry Peacham wrote in "The Gentlemans Exercise" that his "good friend Mr Peake", along with Marcus Gheeraerts, was outstanding "for oil colours". [He also judged that Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver were "inferior to none in Christendom for the countenance in small" (miniature portraits). Edmond, "Hilliard & Oliver", 168.] Ellis Waterhouse suggested that the genre of elaborate costume pieces was as much a decorative as a plastic art. He notes that these works, the "enamelled brilliance" of which has become apparent through cleaning, are unique in European art and deserve respect. They were produced chiefly by the workshops of Peake, Gheeraerts the Younger, and De Critz. [Waterhouse, "Painting in Britain", 41.] Sheeran detects the influence of Hilliard’s brightly patterned and coloured miniatures in Peake’s work and places Peake firmly in the "iconic tradition of late Elizabethan painting".

Sheeran believes that Peake's creativity waned into conservatism, his talent "dampened by mass production". He describes Peake's Cambridge portrait of "Prince Charles, as Duke of York" as poorly drawn, with a lifeless pose, in a stereotyped composition that "confirms the artist's reliance on a much repeated formula in his later years". Art historian and curator Karen Hearn, on the other hand, praises the work as "magnificent" and draws attention to the naturalistically rendered note pinned to the curtain.Hearn, "Dynasties", 188.] Peake painted the portrait to mark Charles’s visit to Cambridge on 3 and 4 March 1613, during which he was awarded an M.A.—four months after the death of his brother. [Edmond, “New Light on Jacobean Painters”, 74.] Depicting Prince Charles wearing the Garter and Lesser George, Peake here reverts to a more formal, traditional style of portraiture. [Hearn calls it "a return to the frozen grandeur of mainstream continental court portraiture". Hearn, "Dynasties", 188.] The note pinned to a curtain of cloth of gold, painted in trompe-l'œil fashion, commemorates Charles’s visit in Latin. [The Latin inscription translates: "Charles, we the Muses, since you deigned to agree to both, have both welcomed you as our guest and painted you in humble duty. Visiting the University in the 10th year of his father's reign over England, on 4 March, he was enrolled in the ranks of the Masters and admitted in this Senate House by Valentine Carey Vice-Chancellor". Hearn, "Dynasties", 188.] X-rays of the portrait reveal that Peake painted it over another portrait. Pentimenti, or signs of alteration, can be detected: for example, Charles’s right hand originally rested on his waist.Hearn, "Dynasties", 189.]


ee also

*Artists of the Tudor court



*Auerbach, Erna. "Tudor artists; a study of painters in the royal service and of portraiture on illuminated documents from the accession of Henry VIII to the death of Elizabeth I." London: University of London, Athlone Press, 1954. [ OCLC 1293216.]
*Caple, Chris. "Objects". London: Routledge, 2006. ISBN 0415305896.
*Chamberlain, John. "The Chamberlain Letters." Edited by Elizabeth Thomson. New York: Capricorn, 1966. [ OCLC 37697217.]
*Chirelstein, Ellen. "Lady Elizabeth Pope: The Heraldic Body." In "Renaissance Bodies: The Human Figure in English Culture, c. 1540–1660", edited by Lucy Gent and Nigel Llewellyn, 36–59. London: Reaktion Books, 1990. ISBN 0948462086.
*Edmond, Mary. "Hilliard and Oliver: The Lives and Works of Two Great Miniaturists." London: Robert Hale, 1983. ISBN 0709009275.
*Edmond, Mary. "New Light on Jacobean Painters". "The Burlington Magazine" 118 (February 1976): 74–83.
*Gaunt, William. "Court Painting in England from Tudor to Victorian Times." London: Constable, 1980. ISBN 0094618704.
*Haigh, Christopher. "Elizabeth I." London: Pearson Longman, 1999. ISBN 0582437547.
*Hearn, Karen. "Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England, 1530–1630." London: Tate Publishing, 1995. ISBN 1854371576.
*Kitson, Michael. "British Painting, 1600–1800". Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1977. ISBN 0724100431.
*Ribeiro, Aileen. "Fashion and Fiction: Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England". New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005. ISBN 0300109997.
*Stewart, Alan. "The Cradle King: A Life of James VI & I." London: Chatto and Windus, 2003. ISBN 0701169842.
* Strong, Roy. "The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry." London: Pimlico, 1999. ISBN 0712664815.
*Strong, Roy. “Elizabethan Painting: An Approach Through Inscriptions. 1: Robert Peake the Elder." "The Burlington Magazine" 105 (February 1963): 53–57.
*Strong, Roy. "The English Icon: Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture." London: Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art; New York: Pantheon Books, 1969. [ OCLC 78970800.]
*Strong, Roy. "Gloriana." London: Pimlico, 2003. ISBN 071260944X.
*Walpole, Horace. [ "Anecdotes of Painting in England: With Some Account of the Principal Artists, and Notes on other Arts, Collected by the Late George Vertue"] . Vol II. London: Henry. G. Bohn, 1849. Full view from Google Books. Retrieved on 1 January 2008.
*Waterhouse, Ellis. "Painting in Britain, 1530–1790." 3rd ed. London: Penguin, 1978. ISBN 0140561013.
*Weiss Gallery. "A Fashionable Likeness: Early Portraiture, 1550–1710". London: Weiss Gallery, 2006. [ OCLC 75489656.]
*Weiss Gallery. "A Noble Visage: a Catalogue of Early Portraiture, 1545–1660". London: Weiss Gallery, 2001. [ OCLC 80022178.]

External links

* [ Peake at the National Portrait Gallery]
* [ Two important Peakes in the Metropolitan, New York]

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