COULD a centuries-old enigma that has puzzled art historians be about to be solved by a new exhibition at Compton Verney?
Inspired by the Warwickshire gallery’s own portrait of Sir Thomas Knyvett (circa 1569), the country house art gallery near Wellesbourne is staging the world’s first exhibition devoted to an important and talented – but almost completely forgotten – painter at the court of Elizabeth I.
Although the artist’s name has been lost, his recognisable approach to capturing a sitter’s likeness inspired the renowned art historian, Sir Roy Strong, to coin the moniker the ‘Master of the Countess of Warwick’ – after the portrait of Anne Russell, Countess of Warwick (c.1569) at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire.
Mr Strong initially identified eight portraits in his seminal book The English Icon as by the hand of the mysterious portraitist, but that number has subsequently grown to almost 50, with the portrait in Compton Verney’s British Portraits collection now also attributed to the Master of the Countess of Warwick.
The Compton Verney portrait is believed to depict Thomas Knyvett of Ashwellthorpe (about 1539-1617), who was knighted by Elizabeth I during her Royal Progress in Norfolk in 1578 and became High Sheriff of Norfolk the following year. The painting is unsigned, but because of its distinctive style it has been attributed to the Master of the Countess of Warwick.
Tudor Mystery: A Master Painter Revealed , running from February 4 to May 7, features loans from public and private collections from across the UK and Ireland, many of which are rarely seen in public, including the portrait of Anne Russell, Countess of Warwick.
The show has been curated by Dr Amy Orrock, senior curator at Compton Verney, who said: “This exhibition presents an exciting opportunity to see art history in the making and to actively engage with the ongoing questions faced by art historians.
“Gathered together for the very first time, these beautiful portraits offer rich and tangible insights into life in Tudor Britain, from the sitter’s clothing and jewellery to their status, ambitions and family relationships. We are delighted to be able to shine a spotlight on new research, which brings this period to life more vividly than ever before.”
Visit www.comptonverney.org.uk for full details.