‘All decorated with gilded frames’: a 17th-century British ‘Gallery of Beauties’ in context: an abstract by Professor Karen Hearn

by The Frame Blog


Detail of frame on Portrait of  Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland; painting currently attrib. to Remigius van Leemput;RCIN 402551 © Royal Collection Trust

In 17thcentury Britain there was evidently a significant demand for sets of small-scale head-&-shoulders copies, painted after contemporary portraits. Often made after originals by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), the sets generally consisted of female portraits, suggesting that they may have been intended as ‘galleries of Beauties’. Many sets must now be dispersed, since various individual small portrait heads can be found. However, some groups have survived, too – often in carved and gilded Auricular frames.

This paper arises out of the speaker’s ongoing research into the Anglo-Netherlandish portrait-painter Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661) and his nephew and pupil Theodore Roussel (1614-1689). George Vertue later wrote that Roussel ‘afterwards livd a year with Vandyke.& coppyd his pictures on small panels’. Accordingly, surviving small-scale portrait groups have tended to be attributed either to Roussel, or to the London-based Flemish copyist Remigius van Leemput (1607-75; also known as ‘Remy’).

A little-known but particularly interesting group survives in the collection of Her Majesty The Queen – all surrounded with carved and gilded Auricular frames. Listed at Windsor Castle in an early-18thcentury inventory of Queen Anne’s goods as: ‘14 … Ladies heads Copys by Remy’, by the reign of George III (when they hung in the ‘Room of Beauties’ at Windsor) their attribution had changed to Theodore Roussel.  In reality, the small portraits that make up this Royal Collection group – which are copies of originals by Van Dyck, by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) and by the miniaturist Samuel Cooper (1607/8-1672) – seem to be by a number of different hands. This paper will not only focus on the Auricular frames around this group of small-scale paintings, but will consider them in the context of other surviving portrait-head groups of similar date.


Karen Hearn FSA was the Curator of 16th & 17th Century British Art at Tate Britain, London (1992-2012), and is now an Honorary Professor at University College London. Her work focuses on art in Britain between 1500 and 1710, and on British-Netherlandish cultural links during that period. In 1995, she curated the Tate exhibition Dynasties: Painting in Tudor & Jacobean England 1530-1630, for which she received a European Woman of Achievement Award. She subsequently curated the exhibitions Van Dyck & Britain (2009) and Rubens & Britain (2011-12) both at Tate Britain, and in summer 2015 Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter, at the National Portrait Gallery. Her book Cornelius Johnson was also published last year, and she has now embarked on a full-scale monograph on this Anglo-Netherlandish portrait-painter.