John de Critz or John Decritz (1551/2 – 14 March 1642 (buried)) was one of a number of painters of Flemish origin active at the English royal court during the reigns of James I of England and Charles I of England. He held the post of Serjeant Painter to the king from 1603, at first jointly with Leonard Fryer and from 1610 jointly with Robert Peake the Elder.
Charles I was the monarch over the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649.
The Serjeant Painter was an honourable and lucrative position as court painter with the English monarch. It carried with it the prerogative of painting and gilding all of the King's residences, coaches, banners, etc. and it grossed over £1,000 in a good year by the 18th century. The work itself involved painting the palaces, coaches, royal barges, and all sorts of decorations for festivities, which often had to be designed as well. The actual involvement of the Serjeant Painters in this gradually declined. The post itself fell out of use in the 18th century, after a period when "fine art" painters were appointed, and expected to supervise rather than execute decorative painting, for a good salary.
Robert Peake the Elder was an English painter active in the later part of Elizabeth I's reign and for most of the reign of James I. In 1604, he was appointed picture maker to the heir to the throne, Prince Henry; and in 1607, serjeant-painter to King James I – a post he shared with John De Critz. Peake is often called "the elder", to distinguish him from his son, the painter and print seller William Peake and from his grandson, Sir Robert Peake, who followed his father into the family print-selling business.
John de Critz's father was Troilus de Critz, a goldsmith from Antwerp. De Critz was born in Antwerp. His Flemish parents brought him as a boy to England from Antwerp, during the Spanish persecution of Protestants in the Habsburg Netherlands. He was apprenticed to the artist and poet Lucas de Heere, also from Antwerp, who may have taught members of the Gheeraerts family and Robert Peake as well.De Critz established himself as an independent artist by the late 1590s.
A goldsmith is a metalworker who specializes in working with gold and other precious metals. Historically, goldsmiths also have made silverware, platters, goblets, decorative and serviceable utensils, ceremonial or religious items, and rarely using Kintsugi, but the rising prices of precious metals have curtailed the making of such items to a large degree.
Antwerp is a city in Belgium, and is the capital of Antwerp province in Flanders. With a population of 520,504, it is the most populous city proper in Belgium, and with a metropolitan area housing around 1,200,000 people, it's the second largest metropolitan region after Brussels in Belgium.
Habsburg Netherlands, also referred to as Flanders during the early modern period, is the collective name of Holy Roman Empire fiefs in the Low Countries held by the House of Habsburg. The rule began in 1482, when after the death of the Valois-Burgundy duke Charles the Bold the Burgundian Netherlands fell to the Habsburg dynasty by the marriage of Charles's daughter Mary of Burgundy to Archduke Maximilian I of Austria. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor was born in the Habsburg Netherlands and made Brussels his imperial capital.
John de Critz's sister Magdalena married Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, another Flemish court painter, who may also have been a pupil of de Heere. De Critz was succeeded as Serjeant Painter by his son John the Younger (b. before 1599), who had been involved in the work for many years—his father died at about 90. John the Younger was killed shortly afterwards in the fighting at Oxford. Other painters from the family include John the Elder's sons Emmanuel (1608–65), who also worked for the court, and Thomas (1607–53), to whom many portraits of their Tradescant relations are now attributed.Thomas also worked for the Crown between 1629 and 1637. Oliver de Critz (1626–51) was a son of John the Younger by his third wife; his portrait in the Ashmolean Museum may be a self-portrait.
Marcus Gheeraerts was a Flemish artist working at the Tudor court, described as "the most important artist of quality to work in England in large-scale between Eworth and Van Dyck" He was brought to England as a child by his father Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, also a painter. He became a fashionable portraitist in the last decade of the reign of Elizabeth I under the patronage of her champion and pageant-master Sir Henry Lee. He introduced a new aesthetic in English court painting that captured the essence of a sitter through close observation. He became a favorite portraitist of James I's queen Anne of Denmark, but fell out of fashion in the late 1610s.
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England, is the world's first university museum. Its first building was erected in 1678–83 to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole gave to the University of Oxford in 1677.
In 1603 de Critz was appointed Serjeant Painter to the king. De Critz's duties as the Serjeant Painter entailed making portraits, the restoration of the decorative detail, the painting and guilding of royal coaches and barges, and individual tasks such as painting the signs and letters on a royal sun-dial.He also painted "bravely" for court masques and dramatic spectaculars which required elaborate scenery and scenic effects. The post of serjeant-painter came into being with the appointment of John Browne in 1511–12, and the last known holder was James Stewart, of whom no records are available after 1782, though it is not clear whether the post was ever actually abolished. In a patent issued on 7 May 1679 for Robert Streater, a list of previous serjeant-painters is given, including "John Decreetz & Robert Peake" as joint-holders of the post. De Critz was given the post in 1603 but is first described as sharing the office with Leonard Fryer, who had held it since 1595. Robert Peake the Elder was appointed jointly with de Critz in 1607, or 1610. A payment made to de Critz in 1633 shows that he was paid a retainer of £40 a year.
Robert Streater (1621–1679), was an English landscape, history, still-life and portrait artist, architectural painter, and etcher. He was Serjeant Painter to King Charles II, and decorated the ceiling of Christopher Wren's Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford.
The role of the serjeant painter was elastic in its definition of duties: it involved not just the painting of original portraits but of their reproductions in new versions, to be sent to other courts (King James, unlike Elizabeth, was markedly averse to sitting for his portrait)as well as copying and restoring portraits by other painters in the royal collection, and many decorative tasks, for example scene painting and the painting of banners.
The Royal Collection of the British Royal family is the largest private art collection in the world.
Horace Walpole provided information about some of the tasks de Critz performed in his Anecdotes of Painting in England, which he based closely on the notes of George Vertue, who had met acquaintances of de Critz and his family. In particular, Walpole quoted from a scrap of paper, a "memorandum in his own hand", on which de Critz wrote bills for jobs completed.On one side was his bill for work on a sun-dial:
Horatio Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, also known as Horace Walpole, was an English writer, art historian, man of letters, antiquarian and Whig politician.
George Vertue was an English engraver and antiquary, whose notebooks on British art of the first half of the 18th century are a valuable source for the period.
For several times oyling and laying with fayre white a stone for a sun-dyall opposite to some part of the king and queen’s lodgings, the lines thereof being drawn in severall colours, the letters directing to the bowers guilded with fine gould, as alsoe the glory, and a scrowle guilded with fine gould, whereon the number and figures specifying the planetary howers are inscribed; likewise certain letters drawne in black informing in what part of the compasse the sun at any time there shining shall be resident; the whole worke being circumferenced with a frett painted in a manner of a stone one, the compleat measure of the whole being six foote.
On the other side is a demand for payment for work on the royal barge:
John De Critz demaundeth allowance for these parcells of Worke following, viz. For repayreing, refreshing, washing and varnishing the whole body of his Majesty’s privy barge, and mending with fine gould and faire colours many and divers parts thereof, as about the chaire of state, the doores, and most of the antiques about the windowes, that had bene galled and defaced, the two figures at the entrance being most new coloured and painted, the Mercury and the lion that are fixed to the sternes of this and the row barge being in several places repayred both with gould and colours, as also the taffarils on the top of the barge in many parts guilded and strowed with fayre byse. The two figures of Justice and Fortitude most an end [ sic ] being quite new painted and guilded. The border on the outside of the bulk being new layd with faire white and trayled over with greene according to the custom heretofore—and for baying and colouring the whole number of the oares for the row barge being thirty-six.
John de Critz's final bill for painting these barges and their carvings by Maximilian Colt in 1621 was over £255.Walpole also noted that de Critz painted a gilded "middle piece" for a ceiling at Oatlands Palace and repaired pictures, and he quoted a wardrobe account for work on the royal carriages: "To John De Critz, serjeant-painter, for painting and gilding with good gold the body and carriages of two coaches and the carriage of one chariot and other necessaries, 179l.3s.4d. anno 1634."
De Critz gilded Maximilian Colt's marble effigy for the tomb of Elizabeth I, completed in 1606, which had been painted by Nicholas Hilliard. All traces of the painting and gilding have now disappeared.Later in the same year he painted and gilded the tomb of Princess Sophia.
Walpole said of de Critz that "His life is to be collected rather from office-books than from his works or his reputation"; and the comparative mundanity of some of the tasks he undertook has led to a downplaying of the artistic role of the serjeant-painter. Art historian William Gaunt describes de Critz's role as "mainly that of a handyman".A Burlington Magazine editorial remarked:
A great deal of easy fun has been poked at the institution of the serjeant-painters, because these had to attend to tasks such as downright house-painting, the painting of barges and coaches, the provision of banners and streamers, and so on.
It is not certainly known where in London de Critz had his studio, but he moved to the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields before his death in 1642.He stated in his will that he had previously lived for thirty years in the parish of St Andrew, Holborn. George Vertue recorded there had been three rooms full of the king’s pictures at de Critz’s house in Austin-friars. De Critz was entered in a subsidy roll for the parish of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in 1607 and again in 1625; and since this parish adjoins St Andrew, Holborn, he possibly had his studio in St Sepulchre. He died in London in 1642; the exact date is unknown.
Although de Critz was a prolific painter, few of his works have been clearly identified. The portrait painters of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period often made multiple versions not only of their own paintings but of those of their predecessors and contemporaries, and they rarely signed their work. Portraits by different artists often share poses or iconographical features. Although many paintings are attributed to de Critz, therefore, full authentication is unusual. The art historian and critic Sir John Rothenstein summed up the problems:
To make definitive attributions is a difficult undertaking. This is due to a variety of causes, the most important being the practice of successful painters of employing assistants. Another confusing factor is the tendency on the part of members of the artistic families to intermarry with one another; Marc Gheeraerts the elder and his son and namesake, for example, both married sisters of John de Critz.
As part of the monarchy's advancement of its political and dynastic aims, copies of standard portraits were required for presentation as gifts and transmission to foreign embassies.De Critz was commissioned to make such portraits, including three pictures of King James, Anne of Denmark, and Prince Henry, for £53-s-8d on 20 August 1606, to be sent to the Archduke of Austria.
Gustav Ungerer has studied the interchanges of portraits, jewellery and other gifts during the negotiations and celebrations which surrounded the Treaty of London, a peace treaty signed with Spain in August 1604 during the conference at Somerset House, when diplomatic exchanges of miniatures and full-length portraits took place in a sustained show of brilliant self-representation.In this context, Ungerer discusses the contested authorship of the famous painting of the two sets of negotiators sitting opposite each other at the conference table, The Somerset House Conference, a work in which John de Critz may have had a hand, either directly or as a source for the copying of figures.
Both versions of the painting, at the National Portrait Gallery and National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, are signed by the Spanish court painter Juan Pantoja de la Cruz. However scholars disagree about whether he was the artist since, although the signatures appear authentic, he was never in London.It is possible that either the works are by a Flemish artist, possibly Frans Pourbus, or John De Critz, or were copied by Pantoja from a Flemish artist who was in London at the time. Pantoja may have worked up the likenesses of the English negotiators by "copying the faces of the delegates either from miniatures or from standard portraits given to him or to the constable in London or sent to Valladolid...He obviously used a Cecil portrait as model for The Somerset House Conference which was Cecil's standard type of portrait attributed to John de Critz". It is certainly on record that the leader of the English negotiating team, Sir Robert Cecil, gave the leader of the Spanish negotiators, Juan Fernández de Velasco, 5th Duke of Frías and Constable of Castile, his stock portrait as duplicated in the workshop of John de Critz. Pantoja's depiction of Charles Howard, earl of Nottingham, also looks as if it has been duplicated from a standard portrait. Apart from the heads, the picture shows signs of workshop painting by assistants, perhaps revealing that numerous versions were produced, as there would have been many demands from those involved for duplicates of the painting, for purposes of historical record. The painting sheds light on the piecemeal process of constructing group portraits at this time.
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Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, Marc Gerard and Marcus Garret was a Flemish painter, draughtsman, print designer and etcher who worked in his native Flanders and in England. He worked in many genres, including portraits, religious paintings, landscapes and architectural themes. He designed heraldic designs and decorations for tombs. He is known for his creation of a print depicting a map of his native town Bruges and the illustrations for a Dutch language publication recounting stories from Aesop's Fables. His attention to naturalistic detail and his practice of drawing animals from life for his prints had an important influence on European book illustration. His son Marcus the Younger became a prominent court painter at the English court.
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