Portrait of John Donne (1573-1631) at the age of 49 thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

Portrait of John Donne (1573-1631) at the age of 49

Oil Painting
1622 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Circular portrait, bust-length, of a bearded man in classical drapery


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 3 parts.

  • Oil Paintings
  • Frames (Furnishings)
  • Frame
Materials and Techniques
Oil on canvas
Brief Description
Oil Painting, 'John Donne (1573-1631), at the age of 49', Anon. British School, 1622. Formerly attributed to Cornelius Johnson (or Cornelis Janssens), (d.1665)
Physical Description
Circular portrait, bust-length, of a bearded man in classical drapery
Dimensions
  • Estimate height: 24.5in
  • Estimate width: 24.625in
Dimensions taken from Summary catalogue of British Paintings, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973
Style
Credit line
Bequeathed by Rev. Alexander Dyce
Object history
Bequeathed by Rev. Alexander Dyce, 1869



Historical significance: The poet and clergyman John Donne (1572-1631) was Dean of St Paul's Cathedral from 1621 until his death. There is another version of this portrait in the Deanery of St. Paul's, which was engraved by Pierre Lombart (1612/13-1682) and published as a frontispiece to Donne's published Letters, 1651. The V&A's painting is thought to be the primary version, the St Paul's a later copy.



Dyce 5 was previously attributed to Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661), a prolific portraitist active in England from around 1618. His early portraits are often bust-length and surrounded, as in this painting, by a trompe l'oeil frame.



As David Piper remarks in his book The Image of the Poet, this, along with other portraits of Donne, is 'out of line with the ordinary portraits of the time, and [has] a marked element of role-playing' (p. 28). The circular format and classical drapery of this portrait relate to medallion reliefs on Roman sarcophagi. Donne's gaze in the V&A painting is directed slightly upwards, rather than directly forward (a subtlety which was not translated to the St Paul's copy).



A note on the file records that until April 1935 the following inscription was written in the centre of the frame at the bottom:



VIRI SERAPHICI JOANNIS DONNE QUA-

DRAGENARIJ EFFIGIES VERA, QUI POST

EAM AETATEM SACRIS INIATUS EC-

LESIAE SI. PAULI DECADUS OBIJIT

ANO DOM 1631° AETATIS SUAE 59°



This inscription corresponds to that on the engraved frontispiece of the 1651 Letters. Donne's age at the time of the portrait's execution is given incorrectly as 59 rather than 49.



The portrait was executed in 1620, in the months before Donne was elected Dean of St Paul's, and during his tenure as reader in divinity at Lincoln's Inn, his old Inn of Court.



This portrait came to the museum in 1869 as part of the large bequest made by the literary scholar Alexander Dyce (1798-1869). According to the Handbook of the Dyce and Forster Collections (1880), it was formerly in the collection of Samuel Weller Singer (1783-1858), also a literary scholar.



There is a copy of Dyce.5 in the Deanery, St. Paul's Cathedral. This version was engraved as a frontispiece to Donne's "Letters", 1651. Full face, bearded, bare-headed, in a "classical" drape.
Production
Formerly attributed to Cornelius Johnson (or Cornelis Janssens), (d.1665)
Subject depicted
Bibliographic References
  • David Piper, The Image of the Poet, Oxford, 1982, pp. 27-28
  • Roy Strong, Catalogue of the Tudor and Jacobean portraits, National Portrait Gallery, plate 121
Collection
Accession Number
DYCE.5

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record createdFebruary 7, 2007
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