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Steven Van der Meulen (attributed to)
(active 1543-1568)
Robert Dudley, First Earl of Leicester
circa 1564
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Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester (circa 1532-1588), was Elizabeth I’s only serious English suitor after she became queen and remained her favourite throughout his life. He was also described by a contemporary as ‘a light and greedy man’! Many portraits of him survive, reflecting his political importance and preoccupation with his own image. The piece of fine silk revealed in his purse might be a handkerchief, perhaps a token of affection from the Queen.

Ask the class what kind of objects they might have in a portrait of themselves to show a close connection to someone, such as a close family member or friend.

He was Master of the Horse (from 1558) and was renowned for his horsemanship. The jewel in his hat refers to this talent as it depicts the Roman hero Marcus Curtius on horseback. To the right of the Earl is shown his coat of arms encircled by the Order of the Garter (awarded to him in 1559). Leicester also wears the Garter George jewel. Other marks of the sitter’s achievement, such as the coronet above the Garter arms, were added after the portrait was painted. This shows us that he wanted the portrait to keep up with his rising rank.

The children could start a portrait that they add to over a period of time, including anything to show personal achievements such as doing well in sports or achieving a particular level in class work.

Leicester’s figure makes a dramatic shape against the dark background. His white and gold clothing and expensive jewels stand out. The stiff vertical lines of neck, chair-back and classical columns emphasise the confidence of this powerful man. Even the dog gazes up admiringly at his master.

Probably born in Antwerp, Steven Van der Meulen (active 1543–1568) was a Netherlandish painter who made his career in England. However, few details of his life are known. He was a pupil of Willem van Cleve the younger and was admitted to the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1552. He was in London by 1560 where he seems to have found favour at the English court. Van der Meulen’s name can be connected with portraits of members of the most powerful Elizabethan families, including William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire, Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk.
attributed to Steven Van der Meulen, Robert Dudley, First Earl of Leicester, circa 1564
Materials and technique: Oil on panel
Dimensions: 110 x 80 cm
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust): 14.1996
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