circle of William Dobson, Unknown Man

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Unknown Man
? c.1660
The Music Room
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 62 cm, Overall width: 54.4 cm
circle of William Dobson (1611-1646)
Catalogue Number


The sitter in the present portrait has been identified traditionally as the royalist MP William Harrison (1619–1643). However, a portrait of Harrison in a private collection, dated 1643 – the year in which he was killed – depicts a tall, lean man with flat hair, a long face and pointy chin, and therefore nothing like the present likeness.1 Moreover, the linen necktie worn by the sitter came into fashion in England well after Harrison’s death in 1643: the style emerged during the mid-1650s and was not particularly common until the 1660s. The simple, short cravat in the present portrait is comparable to that worn by some of Lely’s ‘Flagman of Lowestoft’ portraits painted in 1665–6, now in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. 

In its style and format this portrait of an unknown man is reminiscent of the work of the artist William Dobson (1611–1646). The fulsome modelling of the face with a sharp highlight on the tip of the nose is consistent with Dobson’s portrait of his wife (Tate, T06640). The slightly anxious expression, the convincing projection of the nose and the soft tumbling hair are also close to portraits by Gilbert Soest (c.1605–81), who was influenced by the work of Dobson. The rendering of the armour in particular is close to that in Soest’s portrait of Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford (Dulwich Picture Gallery, DPG 573) and the portraits of Sir Henry and Sir Charles Lyttleton at Hagley Hall, Worcestershire. Furthermore, the ruddy flesh tones and frank gaze are characteristics of some of Lely’s most powerful male portraits, such as his ‘Flagmen’ series (see for example Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, BHC3007).

by Emily Burns


  1. See illustration in Herbert Charles Fanshawe, The Memoirs of Ann, Lady Fanshawe, wife of Sir Richard Fanshawe, bart., 1600–72, reprinted from the original MS. in the possession of Mr. Evelyn John Fanshawe of Parsloes, London: J. Lane, 1907, pp. 324–5, (accessed 3 February 2020).


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