Two hundred and three

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leciester

c.1560-5 attributed to Steven Van Der Maeulen
The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is pleasingly hidden away from the London tourist crowds, a welcome break from viewing historical art through throngs of people. The collection is also laid out in the old style, throughout a house rather than regimented in galleries, so one is free to wander through the ornate and elaborately decorated rooms taking in the surroundings as much as the art itself. Robert Dudley is certainly one of the most arresting paintings in the collection, set off by his almost celebrity-like status even now, notorious for his rumoured romance with Elizabeth I. The portrait carries this air extremely well, possessing an element of realism so often lacking in the Dutch portraiture style which usually appears rather two-dimensional. Here Dudley’s face is beautifully executed; subtly formed, paint summons this face with effortless precision, brush stokes barely showing and colour blended to skin perfecty. The lightened face, the piercing yet inquisitive stare, is almost Italian stylistically in its expression of emotion. This portrait appears to be in a different league than Van Der Maeulen’s others; if indeed it is Van Der Maeulen, a question probed by a recently discovered will due to the stated date of death. The flatter, more dull, way of painting is returned to in Dudley’s clothing, though painted in exquisite detail, and his hands, which are drawn rather childishly in comparison to the head. The power of this portrait is in the face, as in Neel’s postcard yesterday (202), creating a lasting impression through a profile, introducing us to the character of the picture.

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