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William Larkin, Portrait of Richard Sackville

William Larkin, Portrait of Richard Sackville, oil, 1613

Needle lace edging, probably Italian, 1600-1620. V&A Museum London

The two Sackville brothers side by side at Kenwood House, each looming over 2 meters tall

William Larkin

Portrait of Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset

Oil on canvas, 206.3x122.2cm (81 3/16 x 48 1/8"), 1613
Even for Jacobean standards this is over the top. A contemporary wrote at the time that Richard Sackville "dazzled the eyes of all who saw the splendour of [his] dress". This was probably the outfit he wore to the wedding party of the daughter of King James I. Infamous for his love of women, gambling and tilting he was extravagant and loved spending money on fancy clothes. It would be the perfect sitter for painter William Larkin (1580-1619), master supreme at depicting elaborate fabrics at a fantastic scale. This portrait is over 2 meters tall and splendidly impressive. The bold colours jump out at you and the extensive embroidery and lace details amaze the viewer. Larkin was a master at combining colours in such a way that the picture dazzles but not clashes. The reds in the carpet return in the curtain, and the figure is dressed in a contrasting black, white and gold outfit. Larkin had special techniques of layering dabs of paint in order to create the illusion of gold thread. The stiff lace collar rests on a wire support and features huge scallops of expensive needle (?) lace throughout.  The lace comes back in the matching cuffs. Some gold bobbin lace finishes off the highly decorated embroidered gloves. The costume is painted with relatively little shading and form. All attention is going to the embroidery and lace detail that covers Richard from head to toe. Only the painting of the face shows the growing influence of continental artists who would focus more and more on realism and form.

Suffolk Collction, Kenwood House, English Heritage.
More on the history of early lace here

About the author

Sophie is an artist, art historian, tutor, author and blogger. She writes on oil and pastel painting, art history and the life of an artist. She paints portraits and still life and specialises in painting drapery and lace.

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