Lace in late 16th and early 17th Century Portraiture

Lace features in almost every European elite portrait from the late sixteenth onwards. It takes up large areas of the canvas, yet is often skipped by art historians as merely decorative and meaningless. In the past years I have explored how the depiction of lace in early modern portraiture developed with the birth of lace in the late sixteenth century, to its hey-days in the seventeenth century.

Lace painting generally followed the painting style and techniques of its day: from a graphical and fairly 'flat' and exact approach in Tudor England, to a much more painterly approach in the works of Rembrandt and Van Dyck in the seventeenth century. Artists like Hilliard, Larkin and Van Dyck each took a different approach, reflecting general changing values in fashion, status and representation. It is also interesting to see how Dutch masters of the same era approached painting lace. Rembrandt and Frans Hals took on widely different approaches, or so it seems. By analysing the painting techniques used  as well as comparing the depiction of lace with authentic lace from the period, it is possible to deepen our understanding of portrait painters’ approaches to the subject matter and distinguish between various types of lace in portraiture.

I have explored lace painting for many years as an artist, which was the original instigator for my interest in early modern lace in portraiture.  With funding from the National Portrait Gallery (BP Travel Award, 2013) I spent a few months travelling to various archives, museums and lace centres to further my understanding. This resulted in a series of new paintings, which were exhibited at the BP Portrait Award exhibition (2014, London, Edinburgh, Sunderland, Wales), as well as in a self published book which was on sale in the National Portrait Gallery shop during the exhibition, various talks, and many blog posts exploring the subject. For more information on this project, the research involved, the paintings and exhibitions, see BP Travel Award

I am currently (2022) finalising this project in a series of (for now, blog-) articles.

Some articles relating to this project can be found below.

Rembrandt’s Lace
Dress in 17th-Century Portraiture
Hilliard’s Tudor Painting Tips
Lace History: The Boleyn Canopy
William Larkin: The Curtain Master
Robert Peake & Charles I
17th Century Dutch Dress
Three Painters, Three Portraits