Edward de Vere? The Pandolfini Portrait

Edward de Vere? The Pandolfini Portrait

To view/download this article as PDF click HERE.

David Shakespeare

This is the story of a painting which was sold in Florence in April 2015 entitled Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. A journey to try and trace its history, starting with the labels on the back.

This is another presentation about a portrait, not quite as small as the Harley miniature which we looked at earlier. I have called it the Pandolfini Portrait of Edward de Vere, for reasons which will become apparent.

The question of course is whether or not it is genuine, and finally that is for you to decide. I am going to tell you the story as my research progressed, so you won’t discover all of my findings until the end. I will just tell you that by the time we get there you will discover that the name of the portrait is wrong.

So settle down for the story. As ever you will meet some very interesting people.

00 auction of a portrait of Edward de Vere at the Pandolfini auction house in Florence

You are looking at the details of the auction of a portrait of Edward de Vere at the Pandolfini auction house in Florence in April of 2015. It is reported as being of the English School, and having labels on the back.

There are two very interesting facts. Firstly it had been in the collection of John Harley, and secondly it had been in an exhibition in 1890.

The name Harley stands out of course because the Harley family were the second creation of the Earls of Oxford in 1712. The main art collector being Edward Harley who died in 1749.

The painting was expected to sell for 4-5000 Euros, but was sold for 70,000 Euros. It belonged to an important private collection in Treviso, situated just north of Venice and was purchased by a French Antiquarian. I contacted the Pandolfino Gallery, but they were unwilling to divulge any further details.

So here he is. A fine very confident young man, with brown eyes and, hair and high forehead. His neck has the appearance of being quite thick set and muscular. He has a wispy ginger moustache and light stubble. He wears a plumed flat cap at a jaunty angle adorned with gem stones.

I am not an expert on dating of clothing, so if anyone can help please comment. The tunic design seems unusual with what appears to be a flap containing the front of the collar. The shirt has only the tiniest of frills, and the neck is laced and tied.

The painting is unframed and is of oils painted on wood. It measures just 17.8cm by 15.2cm. In fact about the same size as shown relative to an A4 sheet of paper.

Here is the back of the painting. The most obvious thing is a series of labels.There are remnants of tape with a Fleur de Lys design which is modern and presumably used to secure it to a frame. In fact you can see that it lies over the label in the top left hand corner. There is also shading on the board which shows it has been chamfered, the result being that the grain changes at the lower part of the image.

The first label looks very old and is positioned perfectly in the centre of the back of the painting. There is the remnant of a handwritten letter D which I take to mean all that remains of the word sold.

There is a second smaller printed label on top of it the majority of which has peeled off leaving only the word Oxford.

I am not an expert on typefaces but this appears to be a “modern” Roman font which appeared around 1800 and was dominant by 1820.

Here I have overtyped The Oxford with Times Roman for scale. The words “Edward de Vere Earl of” is clearly too long for the space. And “17th Earl of” is too short. The only thing that seems to fit is “ E. de Vere Earl of” The dates of birth and death are handwritten as B. 1540 D. 1604. The former being wrong for Edward de Vere as he was born ten years later in 1550. I think this handwriting precedes the typed label otherwise the dates would be on the label.

A search of prominent Englishmen with dates of 1540-1604. reveal only one man George Hastings 4th Earl of Huntington, and he is definitely not the man in the painting.

The second label hand written says Portrait of the Earl of Oxford. The number 33 suggests that this was part of an exhibition.

Then there are two exhibition labels. The first refers to the Exhibition held a the New Gallery, Regent Street London in 1890. The second refers to an exhibition of The Royal House of Tudor in Manchester. The label of this one overlays the 1890 one showing it to be more recent.

Then we come to interesting one, which took me some time to decipher.

What is says is Lent by Dr, J Harley. 9 Stratford… In this case it is also overlaid by the Manchester label indicating that it refers to the London Exhibition.


Now these were big exhibitions. This is the cover of the 1890 London Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor. Below it is the interior of the New Gallery Regent Street at around that time. Inside the catalogue was a note saying that an illustrated version was being prepared. Unfortunately the painting was not included. Interestingly the gallery no longer exists, it became a cinema and now it is the headquarters of Burberry.

The exhibition extended over 5 galleries and was supported by a very large number of individuals from the art world and many important paintings were on display. The entry for Edward de Vere confirms that the painting was lent by John Harley MD. Here is an extract from the description.

His character appears to have been marked by haughtiness, vanity and affectation. He aped Italian dresses, and was called the “Mirror Tuscanissimo.” He was the author of several comedies that have perished and of a number of odes and sonnets published under the title of Diana.

Inside the catalogue it states that an illustrated version was being prepared. I managed to trace one but unfortunately there was no picture of the painting to confirm whether or not it had a frame.

The Manchester exhibition followed in 1897, and by all accounts was even larger. Here the painting was relegated to a less prominent position.

Then the last clue is the name Poynder written in capitals in square chalk.

This written over a previous label and I think it was used to indicate a buyer . The fact that it is so well preserved suggests it is fairly recent.

And that’s all we have to go on. The labels take us back only into the 19th century. If you have seen my presentation on the Harley miniature the name Harley will be very familiar to you.

An obvious question is whether or not this John Harley had anything to do with Harley Family who were the Earls of Oxford, second creation, and by way of marriage came into possession of the Harley miniature and the Welbeck Abbey portraits of Edward de Vere.

In order to investigate this we need to visit the delightful town of Ludlow in Shropshire, pictured Below by Louise J Rayner.

Ludlow Marketplace -Louise J Rayner 1832-1924

Ludlow castle sitting on a promontory over the river Teme has a long and turbulent history, figuring heavily during the Wars of the Roses. It is however a nearby castle which of interest to us.

Ten miles away, just over the border in Herefordshire is this. Brampton Bryan Castle. This remarkable engraving which shows a ruined building was carried out by Sam and Nath Buck in 1732. It tells us that the castle was owned by non other than Edward Harley Earl of Oxford. Ludlow Marketplace -Louise J Rayner 1832-1924.

It also tells us that It originally was in the hands of Brian de Brompton and came into the Harley
family in 1309, by marriage in the reign of Edward 111.

The family lived in the castle until it was sacked during the Civil war having been bravely defended by the indomitable Lady Brilliana Harley. The family regained possession of the castle after the Restoration of the monarchy.

During the late years of the 17th century the Harleys built a new house, which passed down to Edward Harley the great collector, who preferred to live at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire.

It then passed into the hands of his cousin Edward the third Earl of Oxford and on right down to the the 6th and last Earl Alfred Harley in 1848. He died in 1853 close to Ludlow and the title became extinct.

Following that the house and contents were in the possession of a distant relative William Daker Harley.

The house was then rented from at least 1868 by the Staunton family until taken back by the Harleys by 1881 and they continue to live there to this day.

Brampton Bryan Hall and Castle

The 6th Earls wife Eliza (Nugent) lived until 1877 surviving him by 24 years, dying in Bray Berkshire.

Eliza Nugent Countess of Oxford (1804-1877) pictured in 1861

Why on earth is all this relevant you might say? Well we need to go back to Ludlow to answer that.

Information from Ludlow parish registers reveals that a John Harley was born in Stanton Lacy, 3 miles North of Ludlow in1838. John’s father had died in 1838 and his mother’s occupation is down as “Seminary”. The only reference I can find for this refers to training women to be teachers.

18 map Edward de Vere Pandolfini portrait

Just to keep you orientated here is a map showing the 3 places I have discussed so far.

I can accurately trace back the ancestors of John Harley to 1715. Prior to that there is a mix of families in Ludlow going back to 1594. There is nothing I can find to link his family with that of Brampton Bryan. It is possible of course that one of John Harley’s ancestors was an illegitimate child of one of the Earls, but highly unlikely.

You may remember from my previous talk that the link from the Harley family itself, to the de Vere’s was tenuous to say the least. The bulk of the de Vere memorabilia came by way of Henrietta Cavendish Holles the wife of Edward Harley.

I can say with certainty then that John Harley from Ludlow was not linked in anyway to the Harleys of Brampton Bryan.

So how on earth did he get his hands on the painting? Well that’s a very interesting question.

The 1851 census finds John aged 18, living with and apprenticed to George Cocking chemist in Bull Ring Ludlow. Elizabeth, John’s mother 44 was working as a school mistress.

The Old Grammar School. Mill Street Ludlow

In a provincial town it is likely that John would have left full time education at between 10 and 14 years. Records from King’s College show that he studied at the old Grammar School. at the bottom of Mill Street.

In 1832 Dr Thomas Lloyd, the Ludlow doctor was an amateur geologist, and in 1839, published a landmark paper on the subject. Geology of the Ludlow area was a lifelong interest of John Harley and he left specimens to the museum in his will.

John went on to study medicine at Kings College Hospital London which is somewhat curious. Records show that he matriculated in 1855 at the age of 22.

This was one of a small number of elite institutions which trained specialists of the highest order who became Fellows of the Royal Colleges of Medicine and Surgery. Not surprisingly entrance was riddled with nepotism very much under the control of the wealthy. In addition such training would have been expensive in terms of payment for lectures.

Dr Lloyd died in 1848, so he may have had some influence in John Harley’s interest in geology, but not over his medical career.

Interestingly John Harley’s brother Edward also became a doctor and as a GP founded a cottage hospital in Safron Walden in 1873.

Who funded the brothers education is unclear.

By 1858 John had gained a post of Medical Tutor at Kings and later as Assistant Physician. In those days many posts were unpaid. Lecturers charged students either in groups or as individuals in order to support themselves.

Records show that John was consistently at the top of all the examinations he undertook By 1871, at only 38 he had already been married and widowed.

St Thomas’ Hospital opened in 1872

He had left king’s college for St Thomas’ and climbed the ranks of seniority. He was promoted to full physician in 1879 and delivered the Goulstonian Lectures to the Royal College of Physicians. He had married Maria Jenkins from Bromyard in 1873 daughter of a coal merchant.

9 Stratford Place Oxford Street

By the 1891 census he was at his prestigious rooms at 9 Stratford Place Oxford Street, the address on the back of the painting, and oddly enough just round the corner from where the de Vere Society used to hold its meetings. His wife and family meanwhile were at Redfold Farm, Pullborough Essex.

Sometime over the next few years John Harley retired to the home he had built in Pulborough. We find him there with his wife and two unmarried daughters, the other three were already wed. The document tells us that they lived in Beedings.

In the section enquiring about the number of rooms, the tone of the handwritten note indicates his irritation at the intrusion into his privacy of having to fill in the form.

He declares “I am a authority and live accordingly, then he inserts 24 .

He might well have been a little coy about his house. He built it in the 1890’s and was known locally as Harley’s Castle.

It stands at the highest point of a ridge, some 300 feet above sea level. In fact it had 75 rooms, and is still referred to as Beedings Castle today. It has however been converted into 7 flats.

John Harley died in 1921. His probate records show that he left an estate of £51412 18s 4 to his eldest daughter Sophia Margaret Harley spinster.

His obituary was not entirely complimentary.

Harley expounded views on the origins of certain diseases that were so entirely unwarranted by contemporary discoveries in pathology and bacteriology that he made no disciples and indeed lost both professional respect and actual practice as a result.

His geniality, genuine as it was, became something of an easily caricatured joke, particularly his habit of smiling, bowing, and vigorously shaking hands on every possible occasion with every acquaintance that he met.

The house was used by the Canadian Army during WW2 and it is likely that the house was broken up and the contents sold before this date.

Sophia in turn died in Bournemouth in 1947

So that’s the story of John Harley, a nice boy from the country who turned into a rather a conceited man, becoming a caricature of himself. Something I saw quite often in my former life as a surgeon.

How did he get the painting? Whatever the route John Harley either bought it or was given it by a friend or grateful patient. His links to Ludlow close to the Harley estate may have spiked his interest, if it had come up for sale. In the late 19th century a painting labelled as Edward de Vere would not have been of great interest, and yet he was obviously proud of it as he lent it for two large exhibitions. The fact the painting must have come under the scrutiny of art experts on these occasions must have reflected some credence that the naming of the portrait was correct.

The next owner is another interesting man.

Sir John Dickson Poynder 1st Baron Islington 1866-1936

The name Poynder almost certainly refers to this man Sir John Dickson Poynder 1st Baron Islington (1866-1936), a British politician who was Governor of New Zealand between 1910 and 1912. In fact his birth name was Dickson, but he changed it to Dickson Poynder when he inherited his title from his maternal grandfather. You can see from this photograph that he was both fine and upstanding.

Here he is arriving in Wellington in 1910.

Sir John was an art collector and he was married to this lady Anne Beauclerk Dundas Duchess of Islington.

Anne Beauclerk Dundas Duchess of Islington. 1869-1958

Now for anyone who has waded through the extensive family connections of the de Vere family, Beauclerk will be a familiar name.

Charles Beauclerk 1st Duke of St Albans shown above on the left, was the illegitimate son on Charles 11 by his mistress Nell Gwyn.

He married Diana Vere, the daughter of the 20th and last Earl of Oxford, first creation Aubrey de Vere. The happy couple are shown below.

Charles Beauclerk 1st Duke of St Albans

Diana de Vere

Further down the line Came a lady called Caroline Beauclerk who died in 1838. Shown circled above.

In fact Anne Beauclerk Dundas was not a Beauclerk at all. It appears that she was named after the distantly related aunt Caroline.

I am sure that John Harley had the painting first. It was in his possession in 1890 (aged 57), when John Dickson Poynder would have been 24. It is possible that it may have been passed on to Anne from the descendants of her aunt Lady Caroline Beauclerk, but I think this highly unlikely.

Is the portrait Edward de Vere?

Well in terms of provenance we have a 300 year gap. During that time it must have been somewhere, and someone must have seen it.

I have made a comparison with two portraits. Firstly the Welbeck portrait at present at the National Portrait gallery. Although a copy, the original dates from 1575. The second is with the Harley miniature still at Welbeck Abbey which is labelled as Shakespeare and was in the collection of the earls of Oxford (second creation).

I have constructed a grid over each of the portraits and then laid this over the one of interest, which has then been scaled and rotated so that the eye centres line up. I have also traced the outline of the facial features with a series of coloured dots.

Provided that there is reasonable alignment of rotation and flexion/ extension of the head, a comparison can be made. This technique merely demonstrates the similarities and differences between the compared images. As these are not photographs there can be much variation in the depiction of the subject.

First the Welbeck. Both subjects have similar eye colour and the same thin lips. The image on the right is less rotated. In general terms the geometry of the face is very similar. The difference in the position of the nose and mouth centres is due to rotation. The data points indicate that the shape of the face and contours of the eyes and eyebrows is again very similar. In my opinion the geometry of the face is quite consistent with this being the same man.

Next let’s look at the Harley miniature. This has the advantage that rotation of the image is virtually the same. The disadvantage of course is the great age difference. In this case the correlation according to the data is if anything more striking. There is a difference along the left side of the jaw, as viewed. This may be because the jaw line on and chin on the Harley miniature is covered by the beard and I have estimated its position. I must emphasise that this technique is merely a guide allowing you to focus on similarities and differences.

So that was as far as I could go. Frustratingly the end of the investigation. Until…

A new line of Enquiry

I looked again at the birth dates and decided to look for prominent Italian men with those dates, nothing, then I tried Frenchmen. And up popped this painting.

François 1st of France

This a painting of Francois 1st of France. In fact the dates were irrelevant. It was the similarity of style that struck me. The same green background, the same type of plumed hat, and the same type of shirt collar.

So now my friends you need to meet a a very special artist.

This is Corneille de Lyon. Born around 1500 in Holland where he was known as Corneille de La Haye.

He was first referred to in 1533 in documents in Lyon. Initially he worked for Francois 1st and later for Henry 2nd. He worked for members of the nobility, and courtiers.

His format was that of the small portrait of oil on panel with a green or blue background. Great care was taken of the facial features which were painted thinly, whereas the background was heavier.

The sitter was painted looking directly at the artist. The clothing was relatively unadorned with many of the men wearing a plumed hat.

James 5th of Scotland

Marie Guise


Here are some examples of his work. James 5th of Scotland and on the right his wife and mother of Mary Queen of Scots, Marie Guise.

This striking portrait of an unknown man has an identical shirt collar to our portrait.


This is the Clouet room of the Musée Condé in Chantilly, which has the largest collections of his works. There are around 200 of them, and here’s the problem, only one is signed.

Many paintings have been assigned to him by appearance and quality alone.

Catherine de Medici visited Corneille in 1564 and was shown a large room with paintings of all of the, grand lords and ladies, princes and princesses of the French Court.

It appears that his style became so popular that others copied him, and he together with his two sons and daughter set up a workshop approach, rather like the Victorian photographic studio. Just pop in for a portrait.

François Dauphin of France

You are now no doubt beginning to wonder about the frames. The style was a product of the Mannerist style of art which was being exemplified by our two friends Rosso Fiorentino and Francesco Primaticcio. One of the characteristics of this is body distortion, which may explain the cut and paste appearance of some of the figures. You may remember from previous presentations that these two Italians were working on both Fontainebleau and Nonsuch Palace. Framemakers used the same architectural forms resulting in the so called “aedicular” or niched frame characteristic of the Corneille de Lyon works.

Recent research has indicated that the Corneille de Lyon paintings were held largely in a private art market, often being held for many generations. During this time the frames were often changed several times, as ownership was passed on. A survey of 8 paintings at Chantilly revealed that none had frames dated back to the 16th century.

So after what I hope was an interesting digression, lets go back to our own painting.

Can Edward de Vere be linked with the studio of Corneille de Lyon? Well he can certainly be linked to Lyon itself. He was definitely in Venice on February 22nd 1576. Here is the relevant information:

On 23rd March Benedetto Spinola informed Lord Burghley that he had received a letter from his brother Pasquino at Venice dated 26th February, reporting that Oxford would travel home by way of Lyon, and would set out after Carnivale. On 21st March 1576 Valentine Dale wrote from Paris that Oxford had arrived there.

Now Carnevale ends on Shrove Tuesday 47 days before Easter. In 1576 this was March 4th. The Ecclesiastical year begins on January 1st. So de Vere reached Paris in 16 days, a total distance of approximately 1190 km. I must say that this seems a remarkable feat and if anyone can provide an alternative calculation then please let me know.

The route taken by Edward de Vere must be a matter of speculation, but it seems most likely that he sailed along the river Po which runs from West from near Turin to its delta in the Adriatic.

Boats on the Po in 1710

Course of the Po from Turin to the delta

From Turin the Mont Cenis pass was the most likely route, climbing slowly over 6 miles. Carriages were usually broken down and carries by pack animals. Passengers either rode on mules or were carried on straw chairs. Porters charged as much as £1000 in today’s money for the 6 day trek.

On the French side the route followed the Arc stream down to the river Isere.

Then on by boat to the Rhone and North to Lyon. We should remember that travelling along the Po and the Rhone was against the current, and the rivers were capricious to say the least. Fortunately during the winter the rivers were low. The raging waters due to melting snow did not begin until April. Travellers usually went by horse drawn barge, some times grouped together and hauled by up to 30 animals.

So to make the journey would have needed an average of 70km a day. This would not have left much time for a sojourn in Lyon.

So could de Vere have had his portrait painted by Corneille de Lyon during a flying visit? Of that we can be quite certain the answer was no, for one very good reason.

Corneille de Lyon was buried on November 8th 1575, four months previously. So that’s it then. Well I’m not sure. The studio was still there and Corneille’s daughter was described as painting “divinely well”.

Edward de Vere was a supremely vain man, who must have been well aware of the work of Corneille de Lyon. If he had a painting done it would have been for his personal pleasure and satisfaction and I reckon he would have taken it with him.

Was there enough time? The implication of the way they worked was that much may have been earlier and all that was required was a detailed, but thin rendering of the face. I understand it can be touch dry in 24 hours.

So let’s say for a moment that Edward de Vere had his portrait in his luggage there was the small matter of what happened on the way across the channel.

His ship was besieged by pirates, his luggage ransacked and the clothes taken from his back. Not everything was taken however, a pair of perfumed gloves was safely delivered to her majesty the Queen by de Vere himself.


So let’s try and pull it all together.

The evidence that the painting originates from the Corneille studio in Lyon is strong. The technique, the size of the portrait, the background colour, the plumed cap, and the detail of the clothing all support this.

There is no record of such a painting in the albeit incomplete list of Corneille de Lyon’s works. This is consistent with it being painted by one of his associates after his death. I have looked through as many of Corneille de Lyon’s paintings that I can find and there is no one similar. The eye and hair colour is similar to that of Edward de Vere and the facial geometry by comparison to the Welbeck and Harley paintings is consistent with it being him.

There was an opportunity for Edward de Vere to have had his portrait painted in his brief stay in Lyon in March 1576, 4 months after the artist’s death. Given the circumstances this would have been for his own personal pleasure and he would have brought it back to England with him.

Then after 300 years the painting resurfaces in the late 19th century, when it was exhibited. At about the same time as the family line of the Earls of Oxford became extinct, with the countess of Oxford dying in 1877.

Now here is a thought. Someone named the painting. I think it highly unlikely that an individual in the 19th century would look at an unnamed painting and say. I know who that is it’s Edward de Vere. It was named before this when in a private collection, and surely by someone who knew who it was.

De Vere memorabilia tended to gravitate towards Horatio Vere who lived longer than other family members, indeed his wife Lady Mary Vere lived until 1671. Items were then channeled through to the Harley family, the Earls of Oxford second creation.

You may remember that the Harley miniature painting was not framed until the early 18th century. It was a family heirloom brought out to show friends and then returned to the safety of the drawer. There was no need to either frame or name it as Shakespeare, they all knew who it was. This could also be true of the Corneille version.

If the painting had been in the Harley collection it is curious that it was not recorded by George Vertue who catalogued the family’s treasures after the death of Edward Harley the main collector in 1749. It is however not unreasonable to consider that it was overlooked, small thin and unframed. It could then have continued its journey in the Harley family.

So how did John Harley the physician get his hands on it?

Well he either bought it or was given it. He had strong links with Ludlow and moved in the upper echelons of 19th century London Society. His interest may have been sparked by his knowledge of the home of the Earls of Oxford at Brampton Bryan, close to his home town. Could it have been that he knew Eliza Countess of Oxford, and she gave it to him?

John Dickson Poynder was a collector and antiquarian so it is easy to see why he wanted it.

The move to Europe and ultimately France has I think, more to do with the artist rather than the subject. I do wonder if the current owner is aware that the painting probably dates from after Corneille de Lyon’s death. He certainly wanted it badly paying 10 times the estimated value. Paintings for sale are usually given an estimated value and there is usually a reserve, both of which are agreed with the vendor. The Pandolfini auction house referred to it as being of an English School, and it does seem odd that they came up with such a low valuation.

So do I think this man is Edward de Vere? Provenance is everything and we have quite a big hole here. The circumstantial evidence that it is genuine is strong. Is it enough to bridge the gap?

So More likely than not that this is Edward de Vere? I would say yes.

Beyond reasonable doubt? You know I think it is very close. So I will stick out my neck and say yes.

One thing is for sure it should be called Edward de Vere, March 1576 Corneille de Lyon School. Lyon.

As always I will be interested to read your comments and observations.

51 Edward de Vere March 1576. Corneille de Lyon School. Lyon

Edward de Vere March 1576. Corneille de Lyon School. Lyon

David Shakespeare August 2021

To view/download this article as PDF click HERE.

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