Cromwell and Charles II star in Warts and All – The Portrait Miniatures of Samuel Cooper

By Ben Miller | 21 November 2013

Exhibition preview: Warts and All – The Portrait Miniatures of Samuel Cooper (1609-1672), Philip Mould, London, until December 7 2013

A photo of a small oil portrait of a 17th century man within a golden oval frame
Samuel Cooper, Self-Portrait (1644). Oval© Royal Collection
Little-known but hugely popular during the turbulent 17th century – he worked for the courts of Charles II and Oliver Cromwell, and Samuel Pepys had to wait seven years to sit for him following a botched initial date – Samuel Cooper’s miniatures on display include an unfinished portrait of Cromwell and his death mask.

Loaned from Warwick Castle, the mask is one of several impressive loans secured by curator Emma Rutherford, whose colluders include the V&a, the Ashmolean and the National Portrait Gallery.

Her own favourite arrives from the Fondation Custodia in Paris – a portrait of Margaret Lemon, Van Dyck’s mistress, dressed as a cavalier nearly 300 years ago.

“The painting has a subtle sexiness,” she explains.

“Lemon is possibly wearing her Van Dyck’s clothing, the male cavalier costume.

“Through this, the painting seems to encapsulate the intimacies of the portrait miniature as opposed to oil painting.

“As it was painted before Cooper had his own studio, it may have been a secret project between Cooper, Van Dyck and Lemon. It shows Cooper as a full-formed artist.’

Lemon is said to have tried to prematurely end Van Dyck’s career by biting his thumb off, and the title of the show comes from Cromwell’s apparent desire to be portrayed unsentimentally.

“Cooper painted hopeful Cavaliers and triumphant Roundheads, humble puritans and the court of the Merry Monarch,” says Rutherford.

“Visitors will be able to visually follow Cooper’s career in the same way that we are able to read Pepys’ diary.

“It is impossible to imagine charting this significant period of British history without these memorable private images.”

The earliest dated portrait, from Burghley House, is of Elizabeth Cecil, who was Countess of Devonshire for most of the 17th century. Cooper was clearly trusted – one portrait captrures Charles’ illegitimate son, James Scott, while a trio of further Cromwell-related pieces are the result of the ruler’s commission to paint his entire family before 1650.

A view of Thomas Alcock, contributed by the Ashmolean, is one of only six surviving Cooper sketches, accompanied by works from his peers and John Hoskins, his uncle and teacher.

  • Philip Mould, Dover Street, London. Open Monday-Friday 9.30am-6pm. Admission free. Follow the gallery on Twitter @philipmould.

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It is a wonderful exhibition with a very good accompanying catalogue. As to whether Cromwell issued any instructions to his portraitist (Cooper or Lely) I remain agnostic.
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