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Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby; A Girl, believed to be Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain, Uk (probably, made)
    England, Great Britain (probably, made)

  • Date:

    1615-1622 (made)
    early 17th century (made)
    1615-1622 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Oliver, Peter, born 1589 - died 1647 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Miniature on vellum with ivory lid and case

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with funds from the Capt. H. B. Murray Bequest

  • Museum number:

    P.3&A-1950

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case RMC, shelf 1 [Lid]
    Portrait Miniatures, room 90a, case 5 [Miniature]

This miniature is a particularly beautiful example of a group of portraits, evidently of the same young woman, which have been traditionally identified as being of Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby. Stanley was the childhood sweetheart of Sir Kenelm Digby, and considered to be of rare beauty and great intellect. But Digby's mother opposed the match and induced her son to go abroad in 1620. After separation and complicated misunderstandings generated by the false news of Digby's death, the couple were finally reunited and married secretly in 1625.

Stylistically this miniature, with its extreme softness and lack of linear definition to the features, would seem to be one of Oliver's later works and it is possible that it was not from life, but painted after Venetia's death in 1633. Sir Kenelm's grief was profound and his loss clearly struck a chord with his contemporaries and referenced by numerous poets including Ben Jonson. If this were a commemorative portrait it would have to be a retrospective and idealising image, a cult object which would only be loosely connected to the reality of Venetia's appearance as a mature woman. This might explain the apparent anomaly of her dress, which for the 1630s, was somewhat out of date.

Physical description

Oval portait miniature on vellum of a young girl, contained in an elliptically turned ivory lid and case.
[Lid] An ivory portrait-box, with flat bolection mouldings and with a rose on the lid; with a brown tortoiseshell sealing ring. Presumably an archaising eighteenth-century addition to the miniature.
[Miniature] Oval miniature portrait of a young woman; head and shoulders, facing and looking to front; wearing a ruff collar, earring in the left ear, a dress emroidered with floral pattern and a red cloak over right shoulder. Features in very delicate stipple and hatch of brown, grey and blue, with black in the eyes and lining the lower edge of the eyelids, white highlights, red for the lips, all on a smooth creamy carnation ground; hair in long lines of pale brown, hatched with darker colour over pale brown wash, stippled at the hair-line; ruff and lace at the breast in impasted white over pale grey wash; ear-ring in burnished silver over white gold for the clasp; dress blue, brown and gold over cream wash hatched with brown; stole in pink and crimson wash, shaded in darker colour, with gold, silver and white decoration; a black line for the ribbon at the breast and in the right ear; background a solid blue wash, finely hatched with darker colour; a gold marginal strip

Place of Origin

Great Britain, Uk (probably, made)
England, Great Britain (probably, made)

Date

1615-1622 (made)
early 17th century (made)
1615-1622 (painted)

Artist/maker

Oliver, Peter, born 1589 - died 1647 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Miniature on vellum with ivory lid and case

Marks and inscriptions

[Miniature] 'PO'

Dimensions

Height: 64 mm, Width: 50 mm
[Miniature] Height: 64 mm, Width: 50 mm

Object history note

[Miniature] One of the ‘triplicate’ portraits referred to by Walpole in a footnote to the 1786 edition of the Anecdotes.

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature on vellum of a girl, believed to be Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby, by Peter Oliver. Contained in an elliptically turned ivory lid and case. Great Britain, 1615-1622.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Murdoch, John. Seventeenth-century English Miniatures in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: The Stationery Office, 1997.
Cat 5., pp.18-20. Full Citation:
"A Girl, believed to be Venetia Stanley, Lady Digby
(b.1600 d.1633)
1615-22
P.3-1950
Oval 64 x 50 mm
Features in very delicate stipple and hatch of brown, grey and blue, with black in the eyes and lining the lower edge of the eyelids, white highlights, red for the lips, all on a smooth creamy carnation ground; hair in long lines of pale brown, hatched with darker colour over pale brown wash, stippled at the hair-line; ruff and lace at the breast in impasted white over pale grey wash; ear-ring in burnished silver over white gold for the clasp; dress blue, brown and gold over cream wash hatched with brown; stole in pink and crimson wash, shaded in darker colour, with gold, silver and white decoration; a black line for the ribbon at the breast and in the right ear; background a solid blue wash, finely hatched with darker colour; a gold marginal strip; on vellum, put down on pasteboard (playing card: one spade).
Condition: The silver blackened, otherwise excellent.
Signed: In gold, upper centre left: PO (interlaced; see A in Appendix 2)
Frame: An ivory portrait-box, with flat bolection mouldings and with a rose on the lid; with a brown tortoiseshell sealing ring. Presumably an archaising eighteenth-century addition to the miniature.
Provenance: Possibly one of the 'triplicate' portraits referred to by Walpole in a footnote to the 1786 edition of the Anecdotes: (1)
Since this works was first published, a valuable treasure of the works of this master and of his father Isaac was discovered in and old house in Wales, which belonged to a descendant of Sir Kenelm Digby. The latest are dated 1633; but being inclosed in ivory and ebony cases, and the whole collection locked up in a wainscot box, they are as perfectly preserved as if newly painted. They all represent Sir Kenelm and persons related or connected with him. There are three portraits of himself, six of his beloved wife at different ages, and three triplicates of his mistress, all three by Isaac Oliver, as is Lady Digby's mother, which I have mentioned before. But the capital work is a large miniature copied from Vandyck, of Sir Kenelm, his wife and two sons, the most beautiful piece of the size that I believe exists. There is a duplicate of Sir Kenelm and Lady Digby from the same picture, and though of not half the volume, still more highly finished. This last piece is set in gold, richly inlaid with flowers in enamel, and shuts like a book. All these with several others I purchased at a great price, but they are not to be matched.
The 'old house' was putatively Wynnstay Hall, the house of 'a Mr Watkin Williams, probably descended from Sir Kenlem Digby, one of whose sons left only two daughters who were married into Welch families'. (2) The miniatures were presumably then at Strawberry Hill (for that provenance see Beale, Cat. No. 148 [555-1905]), but, since they were not included in the Strawberry Hill sale, Walpole or one of his successors in the property may have returned the group to the Digbys. Two of the triplicates were by 1889 in the collection of J K D Wingfield Digby (and are still in the family collection). (3) The present miniature surfaced also in 1889 at the New Gallery (see Exhibited), lent by Robert Maxwell Witham; it was not seen again until Christie's 9 February 1950, lot 96, when it was bought on behalf of the Museum with funds from the Capt. H B Murray Bequest. (4)
Exhibited: New Gallery 1889, no. 286 (as Mary, Princess of Orange); New Haven etc. 1981-2, no. 30.
Literature: Reynolds 1952, p.35, no. 16, pl. VI; Summary Catalogue, 1981, p.42; Murdoch 1981, p.89, pl. 17f. (repro. In colour; Finsten, Isaac Oliver (1981), vol. II, no. 78 etc.
The identity of this sitter has been bizarrely muddled with that of Lady Arabella Seymour (born Stuart, 1575-1615); her appearance at an age compatible with that of this sitter is established by the portrait of 1589 at Hardwick Hall; (4) her appearance as a mature woman at c.1610 is plausibly suggested by the type attributed to Robert Peake the Elder. (5) Clearly this miniature is not of her, nor are the numerous miniatures by the Olivers and Hoskins that have been similarly identified. These include most importantly the image attributed to Isaac Oliver which exists in two nearly identical versions called Anabella in the Wingfield Digby Collection. (6) Together with Cat. No. 5, these miniatures seem to constitute Sir Kenelm's 'triplicate' group 'of his mistress', referred to by Walpole (see Provenance). How this image became identified as Arabella Stuart would be inexplicable were such confusions not common in the history of miniatures. In this instance, its descent from the Digbys via Wynnstay Hall should have secured it by tradition at least as a lady connected with that family.
Of the much smaller group of miniatures traditionally identified as Lady Digby, the crucial comparison is with the Burghley House portrait (7), singed by Peter Oliver and possibly of c. 1620. The sitter has the same receding chin and slight widow's peak, but the hair is less tightly curled and apparently somewhat darker. From this portrait the evolution of Lady Digby's appearance to the Van Dyck type of the early 1630s, and to the deathbed portrait of 1633, is comprehensible: the coarsening of the hair and increasing jowl weight having this graceful beginning. An immediate image - Lady Digby still childlike as she putatively appears in this miniature - would be the portrait (8) signed 10, in the Mauritshuis. On the other hand such images, wrongly identified in tradition and having no long provenance to suggest a proper identification, may have nothing but a superficial similarity to link them with the 'triplicates'. A whole series of portraits of young women of c. 1615, all with fashionably receding chins, long loose curly hair brushed back from the forehead, low-cut flowered dresses and black ribbons - including for example 'Lady Eleanor Davies', (9) Elizabeth, Lady Willoughby d'Eresby by Isaac Oliver (10) and even the Mrs Mole by Hilliard (11) could be assembled, and would prove nothing so much as the power of fashion and the difficulty of judging likenesses between fashionable young women.
Venetia - daughter of Sir Edward Stanley of Tonge Castle in Shropshire, by his wife Lucy, daughter of the 7th Earl of Northumberland - was renowned at court for her brains and her beauty, but not for her chastity. According ot his own account, Kenelm and she had been childhood sweethearts. If this portrait is of Venetia, it should have been painted for or perhaps acquired by Sir Kenelm in the early years of their relationship, c.1615-18, when Venetia's relation to him could have first justified Walpole's interestingly differentiated reference to the 'triplicates of his mistress'. In relation to Peter Oliver's technical and stylistic development, in the extreme softness and lack of definition to the features, the dating could be later in his oeuvre, perhaps close to the date (1627) of his portrait of Sir Kenelm himself, (12) or even after Venetia's death. In that case the image would probably have been copied from or based on the Isaac Oliver type of c.1615, being commissioned by Sir Kenelm as part of his cult of the memory of Venetia after her death.
1 See Walpole 1849, vol. I, p. 233.
2 Ibid., p. 224.
3 BFAC 1889 (Case XI, no. 9 and Case XIII, no. 4) beside other Digby portraits which had been bought at the Strawberry Hill sale, perhaps on behalf of the Digbys by Robert Holford.
4 Strong 1969, vol. I, p. 303; vol. II, pl. 602.
5 Government Picture Collection.
6 The better of which was exhibited as Lady Arabella or Venetia Stanley, V&A 1947, no. 188.
7 Davies 1979, p. 33.
8 Called Arabella Stuart (Foskett 1979, p. 58, pl. 7b; V&A 1947, no. 171).
9 Viscount Bearsted (V&A 1947, no. 173).
10 V&A 1983, no. 170; V&A 1947, no. 174.
11 V&A 1983, no. 117; V&A 1947, no. 97b.
12 Evans Collection, on loan to the NPG."
Victoria and Albert Museum, Department of Prints and Drawings and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1950, London: HMSO, 1962.
The full text of the record is as follows:

'OLIVER, Peter (1594?-1647)

Miniature portrait of a girl, probably Venetia Stanley (1600-1633).
Signed with monogram PO
On vellum on card.
P.3-1950

Purchased from the funds of Captain H.B. Murray's Bequest

Note: P.3-1950 was Lot 96 at Messrs. Sotheby's sale on 9 February 1950 (anonymous sale, illustrated in catalogue) when it was purchased for the Museum. In 1888-9 it was the property of Mr. Robert Maxwell Witham, by whom it was lent to the Stuart Exhibition of that winter at the New Gallery (No.286 in catalogue). It was then described as representing Princess Mary of Orange, eldest daughter of Charles I. Other portraits of the same sitter, by Isaac and Peter Olivier, have been called Lady Arabella Stuart. The date of the miniature and the age of the sitter make both of these hypotheses untenable. The costume points to a date between 1615 and 1620, and the fact that both Isaac and Peter Olivier had a hand in multiplying the same image narrows the probable date to nearer 1615. The further fact that there are two portraits of the same sitter in the Digby family collection, and that a third (in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm) was found inside the folding doors of a diptych miniature representing Sir Kenelm Digby and his wife, suggests someone closely connected with the Digby family. Venetia Stanley married Sir Kenelm Digby in 1625 but they had known one another from childhood and he is known to have been in love with her since before 1620. The authentic portraits of her by Van Dyck show her in her thirties, but are not inconsistent with the hypothesis that this miniature and the other versions represent her in her 'teens.

P.3-1950 is in a contemporary case of turned ivory.'

Exhibition History

The English Miniature (Yale Center for British Art 1981-1982)
The English Miniature (Yale Center for British Art 1981-1982)
The English Miniature (Yale Center for British Art 1981-1982)
The Royal House of Stuart (New Gallery 01/01/1889-31/12/1889)

Materials

Watercolour; Card; Ivory; Vellum

Techniques

Painting

Subjects depicted

Woman; Stanley, Venetia (Lady Digby)

Categories

Frames; Portraits; Paintings

Collection code

PDP

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