The Velvet Top Twelve

written by Sophie | Art History



Soft and lush, rich and deep colours; velvet is and always has been one of the most gorgeous and tactile fabrics around. It has been used for drapery, table covers and clothing for centuries and hence we can find it in portraits and paintings throughout art history.  As I am currently painting (or trying to at least!) velvet I thought I give myself some inspiration and seek out the best velvet in my image collection of 16th and 17th century art. Here’s my top twelve:

It is interesting to paint velvet. The light falls and plays on it so differently than any other fabric. The sheen is so recognisable. It is very hard to photograph and so best painted from life (try to keep a fabric still life untouched with a puppy and two children running around!). I’ll let you be the judge of whether I succeed or not, once my paintings are finished. (here is an example of an older work where I painted velvet)In 16th and 17th century paintings it is sometimes hard to recognise velvet. Black velvet especially is so deep and dark that the sheen is lost and we cannot tell what kind of black material is depicted in a painting. In the examples below I have chosen the ones where it was clear that the material is indeed velvet. I must admit I was expecting many more examples in my database and doing some online searches I could not add much to what I already had. Perhaps velvet was not as common as silk and brocade in clothing after all. I will assume that the sumptuary laws of the 16th century had something to do with that: only people ranking as high or higher than earls were allowed to wear red velvet…..

All images below are small details of much larger paintings. I have ordered them chronologically. Do make note of the year and see how the painting of velvet has developed from very realistic and exact, to more subtle and detailed in some Dutch examples, and more painterly towards the 18th century.

Early 16th Century

Hans Holbein the Younger, Sir Thomas More, 1527, Oil on oak panel. 74.9×60.3cm

Titian, Pope Paul III, 1545/6, 106x85cm. National Museum of Capodimonte

Late 16th Century

Sofonisba Anuissola, Portrait of a young lady,c. 1580, Oil on canvas, 106x67cm, Museum of Lázaro Galdiano.

Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, Robert Devereux,2nd Earl of Essex, 1597. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Early 17th Century

Frans Pourbus the Younger Marie de Medici, Queen of France, 1606/7,Oil on canvas 214 x 124cm, Bilbao Fine Arts Museum.

Attributed to Karel van Mander, Unknown sitter, c. 1608, Portland Collection, Harley Gallery.

Unknown Artist, Elizabeth, Lady Style of Wateringbury, c. 1620, Weiss GalleryRembrandt van Rijn An Old Woman reading, probablythe prophetess Hanna, 1631, Oil on panel, 60x48cm, Rijksmuseum.Frans van Mieris the Elder, A Young Woman in a Red Jacket feeeding a Parrot,1663, oil on oak panel, 22.3 x 17.5cm. Private Collection.

Early 18th Century

Edmund Lilly, Queen Anne, 1703, Blenheim Palace,

Sir Godfrey Kneller, Portrait of Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond and Lennox,c. 1703-1710, Oil on canvas, 91.4×71.1cm. National Portrait Gallery London.Jonathan Richardson, Portrait of Anne Hatton, Countess of Winchilsea,c. 1726, Oil on canvas, 125.1x101cm. National Portrait Gallery London.I hope you find these painted velvet examples beautiful and interesting. I would love to hear your suggestions. Do you know any great painted velvet examples that I have missed? Write it in the comments below.




Published May 31, 2016

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  1. Hello Sophie
    For me, Willem van Aelst steals the show.

    No "cheating" with a sable or badger blender. The technique there looks to be some type of cross hatching with scumble glazing. The textured effect is you zoom in does not appear to have been achieved with a brush. It is still a mystery to me how van Aelst did this.

    Any ideas?


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