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Thomas Wilson (1523/4-1581) [not as inscribed Nicholas Bacon] Secretary of State, diplomat and humanist

Federico Zuccaro

Thomas Wilson (1523/4-1581) [not as inscribed Nicholas Bacon] Secretary of State, diplomat and humanist


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ArtistFederico Zuccaro (1540-1609)
Artist / EngraverJacobus Houbraken (1698-1780)
TitleThomas Wilson (1523/4-1581) [not as inscribed Nicholas Bacon] Secretary of State, diplomat and humanist
Title Publication TitleThe Heads and Characters of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain
Datepublished 1738
MediumEngraving
Exhibition'One, No One and One Hundred Thousand', student display curated by Francesca Sarno, Government Art Collection, London, 26 April to 6 May 2011
Letteringaround portrait: S.R NICHOLAS BACON LORD KEEPER ; below image: [left[ J. Houbraken sculps. Amst. [centre] In the Collection of his Grace the Duke of Bedford [right] Frederico Zucchero pinx. / Impensis I. & P. Knapton 1738.
Published"The Heads and Characters of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain", J. & P. Knapton, London 1743-52
AcquisitionPresented by Dr. Peter Rusk, November 1973
LocationUK, London, Government Art Collection
GAC number11237
 

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The 1575 oil on panel portrait on which this work is based is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. The rectangular canvas shows a three-quarter length view of a sitter now identified as Thomas Wilson (1523/4-1581), humanist and administrator. The work is thought to have been painted during the Wilson’s embassy to the Low Countries from November 1574 to March 1575. Although acknowledged as the work of a Flemish painter, the work is too damaged for a precise identification of the artist.

This print, published in 1738, dates from a time when the oil portrait was wrongly identified as the result of an incorrect inscription. A painted ‘cartellino’ (painted area giving the illusion of a small piece of inscribed paper attached to the work) at the bottom left of the work gives the sitter’s name as ‘Nicholas Bacon’. As Roy Strong (NPG Director 1967-73) explained in 'National Portrait Gallery Tudor & Jacobean Portraits' (1969): ‘The ‘cartellino’ identifying it wrongly as Nicholas Bacon is 17th century in date (it was repaired in 1692 as ‘my Lord Bacon’) and this misidentification persisted until [former NGP Director George] Scharf correctly read the arms [seen in reverse on a signet ring] in 1877.’

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Federico Zuccaro

Federico Zuccaro was born in the Marches, the son of Ottaviano. From 10/11 he worked in his brother Taddeo’s studio in Rome. He later moved to Venice and then Florence, becoming a member of the Accademia del Disegno. He returned to Rome after Taddeo’s death. After a spell in Paris, he visited to London in 1575 and was introduced to the court of Elizabeth I. (His drawings of Dudley and Elizabeth are in the British Museum.) He later completed Vasari’s frescoes in the Cupola, Florence. In 1579 he worked on Pope Gregory XIII’s chapel. He was expelled from Rome for displaying a satirical image. He worked in Venice and Spain, before becoming first principal of the Accademia di San Luca. In his final years he published his autobiography (1605).

Jacobus Houbraken

Flemish engraver Jacobus Houbraken was born in Dordrecht; the son of engraver Arnold Houbraken (1660-1719). He engraved portraits after contemporary artists and Old Master painters. Houbraken produced plates for the third edition of ‘History of England’ (1743-47), written by army officer and historian Paul de Rapin (1661-1725), and for ‘The Heads of the Illustrious Persons of Great Britain’ (1743-52), written by historian and biographer Thomas Birch (1705-1766). For both publications the book illustrator and engraver Hubert-François Gravelot (1699-1773) produced the ornamental surrounds for Houbraken's portraits.