follower of John Closterman, Portrait of an Unknown Man in Roman Military Dress

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
Portrait of an Unknown Man in Roman Military Dress
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 75 cm, Overall width: 62 cm
follower of John Closterman (1660-1711)
Catalogue Number


Picture notes at Mells identify this as a portrait of John Horner (1689–1746) but the cravat and exceedingly long wig indicate a date of 1690–1705. This young sitter is therefore likely to have been born between 1670 and 1685, which falls between generations of the Horner family, and there is no obvious candidate for the sitter’s identity. He wears an adaptation of Roman military dress, in which the leather tunic has been replaced by a silk robe trimmed with gold fringe worn underneath the breastplate. The use of Roman military dress in sculptural and painted portraiture was made fashionable by English and French royalty in the 1670s and 80s, who used it to signify heroic achievement. It quickly percolated down the social scale and became a popular choice for portraits. Roman dress was thought to bring a timelessness to portraiture, rather than contemporary dress which would quickly become outdated. However, as with this portrait, sitters were almost always painted with periwigs and cravats which inevitably undermined such attempts at atemporality.

Previously described as ‘Circle of John Closterman’, the fleshiness of the face and the pose in the present work are characteristics of Closterman’s portraiture. The pinkish tones, shininess of the armour and robes and the loose handling of the drapery, however, suggest a follower.

by Amy Lim

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