Portrait of Captain John Hyfield
Portrait of Captain John Hyfield
Portrait of Captain John Hyfield

ENGLISH SCHOOL (16th Century )

Portrait of Captain John Hyfield

1568 England

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English School
Mid 16th Century
Portrait of Captain John Hyfield
Oil on oak panel
Image size: 16 ½ x 11 inches
Early Frame
Mint
Sotheby’s, 2nd February 2001, lot 151.
This fine and rare three-quarter-length portrait is reputed to depict Captain John Hyfield (or
Highfield). The top left hand side of the portrait contains the sitter’s coat of arms, which is made up of a
red chevron between three acorns. The top right hand side of the portrait contains a Latin inscription
which gives us the sitter’s family motto ‘SPE DUCOR’ (which can be translated as ‘I am lead by hope’)
as well as his age, ‘AETATIS SUAE 42’ and the date, ‘A.D. 1568’. Inscriptions such as this are
common in early English portraiture and serve to highlight the commemorative function of the portrait
to capture a sitter’s likeness at a certain point in their life.


The painting displays the charming naïve qualities characteristic of much Elizabethan portraiture and
the fact that the various elements of the body are not in proper anatomical proportion only adds to the
work’s character. As was often the practice in portraits up until the 18th century, the work was painted
by two artists, one, who painted the sitter’s face and another, who was employed to paint the costume.


The depiction of the gentleman’s face is extremely delicate and well rendered and is similar to the work
of miniaturists of this period, capturing the sitter’s features in minute detail. The costumist has taken
much trouble in faithfully replicating the complex forms of the individual elements of armour and
creating a convincing sense of perspective with his depiction of the rapier hilt, a challenging element for
any draughtsman.


The sitter’s attire was chosen to display his heroism and martial prowess but also his wealth and power.
He cuts an authoritative figure, holding a staff of office aloft in his right hand, his left hand confidently
planted on the helmet at his side. The use of firearms in war became more widespread during the latter
part of the 16th century and by the 1560’s full plate armour, particularly ornate sets such as this, was
produced mainly for use in tournaments rather than the battlefield. Chivalry was a prominent feature
of the Elizabethan court and tournaments, organized by one of the queen’s favourites, Sir Henry Lee,
were major events of court life during her reign. These events gave her male courtiers the opportunity
to indulge their sense of display and masculine exuberance. We can see that the sitter in this portrait is
dressed for a tournament as he wears a lance rest midway up the right hand side of his breastplate. The
armour is richly decorated with strips of gilded patterns and would have been an extremely expensive
status symbol. It appears to be in the Italian style and was possibly made at the armoury at Greenwich,
which was founded by Henry VIII and produced armour of the finest quality for the Tudor nobility, (a
comparable example of Greenwich armour, probably made for Roger Baron North, is held at the
Royal Armoury). The bulging lobster-like articulated tassets echo the 16th century fashion for padded
hose and are especially typical of armour of this style and date (c.1550-1560), as are the pointed
besagews, which cover the wearer’s armpits and protect the joint between the cuirass, (or breastplate),
and the plates that cover the arms.


Literature:
- Cooper, T. A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, London, (2008).
- Reynolds, A. In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion, London, (2013)
Dimensions
Height 16.50 inch (41.91 cm)
Width 11.00 inch (27.94 cm)
Medium
Oil on oak panel
Darnley Fine Art

Darnley Fine Art
London
UK

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