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Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561/2-1636)
Portrait of a Boy aged Two

inscribed 1608

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This painting depicts a young boy from an aristocratic or wealthy family.  It was common at the time for young boys to wear dresses until the age of five or six when they were ‘breeched’ and would begin wearing breeches or trousers. The young boy also carries a small dagger which hangs from his waist near his right elbow.  This distinguishes him from a young girl of the same age and is also a sign of aristocracy.  In the boy’s left hand he holds a bunch of flowers and a string attached to a robin.  Both flowers, pansies or ‘heart’s ease’, and a bird, all signified innocence and transience and may hint at the high rate of infant mortality at the time.  

The style of the dress can be compared to portraits of Queen Elizabeth at the time (whom Gheeraerts also painted).  She would often be depicted in a tight-waisted dress decorated with jewels and a high lace-edged ruff around the neck. Gheeraerts has lavishly depicted the texture of the green velvet dress, highlighting the folds in the material.  The green of the dress contrasts richly with the burgundy background and the red of the table.

Challenge your pupils to find out why young boys in the 1600s wore dresses.

<empty> The painting contains symbols, a hidden language, encourage your pupils to create a visual language using certain objects or symbols to represent things or feelings important to them.

Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561/2-1636) was originally from Bruges in Belgium. He painted a number of important members of the English court, as did his father, Gheeraerts the Elder.  A signature style to Gheeraerts the Younger’s portraits was the inclusion of a sonnet or the date and age of the sitter – as seen here ‘Aetatis suae 2, Ano 1698’. Gheeraerts was one of the few painters in the Stuart period who occasionally showed his sitters gently smiling as in this portrait.

Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, Portrait of a Boy aged Two, inscribed 1608
Materials and technique: Oil on panel
Dimensions:114.3 x 85.7 cm
Compton Verney: CVCSC:0251.B
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