My favourite painting: Dr Jean Wilson

Dr Jean Wilson, a specialist in the iconography and emotional history of English Renaissance funerary monuments, chooses Sir John Finch and Sir Thomas Baines by Carlo Dolci.

Dr Jean Wilson on Sir John Finch and Sir Thomas Baines by Carlo Dolci

‘This was a great love story: John Finch (1626–82) and Thomas Baines (1622–81) met at Christ’s College, Cambridge, and were partners for life.

‘Dolci catches them in conversation: Finch (his hare-lip, always shown in his portraits, tactfully represented) holds a document, his parted lips suggesting that he is commenting on it, as Baines looks up from his study of Plato’s works in response to his partner: the paintings are not only pendants, but depict a dynamic affectionate interchange between the two.

‘I like the tact and subtlety with which Dolci evokes individual personalities–Finch rather vulnerable, Baines calm, and drily humorous’

Dr Jean Wilson specialises in the iconography and emotional history of English Renaissance funerary monuments and is a former president of the Church Monuments Society. Her books include Entertainments for Elizabeth I and the prize-winning The Archaeology of Shakespeare.

Charlotte Mullins comments on Sir John Finch and Sir Thomas Baines

Sir Thomas Baines and Sir John Finch met in the 1640s. They quickly became inseparable and moved to Padua in Italy to continue their training as physicians. Baines became both a physician and a professor of music, but it was Finch’s career that led to the pair being stationed in Florence and Constantinople, where Finch was ambassador to Charles II.

In 1665, Finch was appointed minister to the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Baines accompanied him as his companion. Finch befriended the highly regarded Baroque artist Carlo Dolci, who lived and worked in Florence.

Known primarily for his religious scenes, he also painted portraits for the ruling Medici family. Finch persuaded Dolci to paint Baines and himself and, in the resulting pendant portraits, they make a sober pair. Finch reads a letter as Baines, seated, reads philosophy. Finch’s eyes are in shadow, but the light catches his aquiline nose and full lips.

Baines is paler, his eyebrows arched over hooded eyes. Only Finch’s lace cravat and Baines’s petal-like double cuffs add any sense of luxury. The pair are engaged in solitary pursuits, but are turned to face one another, their heads painted at the same height, their hands reaching for each other.

When Baines died of a fever in Constantinople, Finch wrote that his death had ‘cut off the thread of all my worldly happiness’. Their partnership had been ‘a beautiful and unbroken marriage of souls’. They were together for 36 years and were buried in a joint monument in Christ’s College, Cambridge.


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