The historian MOK O’Keeffe chooses a portrait which hangs in one of London's great houses.
MOK O’Keeffe on ‘Portrait of Lord Thomas Howard de Walden, Later 1st Earl of Suffolk’ by the British School
‘I grew up near Kenwood House in London and, most Sundays, my family would visit, to see the art and walk in the parkland. I remember my mother pausing at this painting and telling my brother and I that this flamboyant man was no longer alive, and that it was important that we thought really hard about the impact we wanted to make on the world and how we wanted to live — life is short and precious and one day we, too, would be only a memory. I fell in love with history and art at Kenwood.’
MOK O’Keeffe is a LGBTQ+ historian, a Society of Leadership Fellow at St George’s House, Windsor Castle, and founder of The Innovation Beehive
Charlotte Mullins comments on Portrait of Lord Thomas Howard de Walden
Thomas Howard was favoured by Elizabeth I and her successor James I. He rose to the position of admiral in the Royal Navy and Lord Chamberlain at Court. This portrait was completed the year after the Queen made him a Knight of the Garter in 1597, a reward for his role in repelling the Spanish Armada a decade earlier. He stands in white doublet and hose with a red velvet surcoat and a voluminous blue mantle lined with taffeta.
The shield of St George’s cross enclosed in a garter appears on his left shoulder and across his chest rests a gold garter collar with a medallion of St George on horseback. Beneath him is an expensive Persian rug and, behind, a luxurious green curtain shimmers. This portrait is every inch a statement of success in being awarded the most senior order of knighthood.
Although members of the Howard family were later painted by celebrated portraitist William Larkin, the artist of this portrait is unknown. The likeness doesn’t have the quality of Larkin’s portraits and shows an inconsistent use of light (and almost no shade). But it is packed full of detail and the face — albeit rather unmodelled — has the intrigue of a miniature.
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The portrait was acquired by English Heritage and now hangs at Kenwood House in London, together with the Suffolk Collection, which includes Larkin’s portrait of Lord Thomas’s second wife, Katherine. In 1619, the pair fell from grace when they were caught embezzling Treasury funds to compensate for their excessive spending.
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