Portrait of John Tradescant the Elder
attr. Cornelis de Neve

Tradescant Room, Gallery 27, First Floor


Focus on the Object

About the Picture

This portrait is thought to have been made after the death of John Tradescant the Elder and based on another smaller portrait also in the Ashmolean (which can be see in the top left of a display case on the right). This one shows Tradescant wearing a black skull-cap, gold earring, white collar and buttoned tunic.

His head is surrounded by a border imitating rolled lead painted in a trompe l’oeil effect.
The fruit, vegetables and shells which appear around the sitter allude to his profession as a gardener and his interest in collecting. In a photograph of c.1860-70 this work appears hung over the west fireplace on the first floor of the Old Ashmolean on Broad Street.

The Artist

Who painted the works of the founders in the Ashmolean’s foundation bequest is one of the great mysteries of the collection. This painting, for example, has been attributed to both Emanuel de Critz (1608-65) and Cornelis de Neve (c.1609-1678). Both artists had links with the Tradescant family and it seems likely that the many portaits of the family in the collection seen in the nearby Founders Gallery (Gallery 38) were produced by one or the other of these artists. The portraits were intended as private rather than public works and are notable for their striking informality when compared with the society portraiture of the same time. The still-life elements are thought to have been executed by another artist, perhaps by a specialist in the genre.