There is another famous portrait of Bess Hardwicke I must tell you about, one dated nearly ten years after the last, and like the first, it is inscribed with silent secrets. Listen closely, though, and the whispers can just be heard…
It was by a little known artist called Rowland Lockey, who (Wikipedia says) from 1581 to 1590 was apprenticed to the Queen’s miniaturist and goldsmith, Nicholas Hilliard. By 1600 he had made a name for himself, and had been made a master of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. Rowland worked mainly as a copyist of famous paintings of the period destined for the long galleries of aristocratic homes, among which were copies of paintings Hans Holbein made of St Thomas More’s family, including the one that included the son of King Edward V, standing in a doorway.
He also produced a number of splendid portraits, but most odd of all in this potted history, is that this supposedly lowly copyist painted a highly accomplished portrait of King James VI of Scotland in 1574, when James was still a boy. And what is most odd about that is that this was seven years before Wikipedia tells us Rowland started his apprenticeship. He then painted one of Claude de Guise in 1577, another of François de Guise in 1578, one of their close relative Mary Queen of Scots the same year; and one of the Earl of Shrewsbury in 1580, all before art history tells us his apprenticeship began. Apart from the curious date of his alleged apprenticeship, the oft quoted date for his birth (1565) is also rather unlikely, given that he would have been only 9 years old when he painted King James. (A date of birth in the 1550s is more reasonable, and an apprenticeship some ten years earlier, too.)
So what else is there about Rowland, this shadowy figure of muddled dates? There is a clue provided in the Dictionary of National Biography, which says that he was commended (along with his fellow apprentice Isaac Oliver) in the preface to the translation of Lomazzo’s ‘Art of Painting’ 1598. Lomazzo was one of the great art historians of his age, so this was praise indeed, but more significant here is that although conventional art history has whitewashed him, all one needs to do is look at his likeness in contemporary medals and portraits, and one can see he was clearly of African origin:
Returning to the portrait of Bess, though, one of Rowland’s most famous portraits… I have to tell you that it is not at all what it first seems to be.
Rowland structures the locks of her hair to tell us that the portrait is in fact not of that Bess. It appears it is instead an informal portrait of the Queen, and he repeats the claim in various places on her dress. But he goes much further than that.
Rowland Lockey then says that this ‘Bess’ was his mother, and if we darken the area and increase the tonal contrast we can see he also repeats this claim too, in both Italian and in English on her forehead. Although only a few letters are easy to see, he goes on to say that his real name was Robert Tudor, the name we found on the earlier painting, and that he was the son of Elizabeth and Ali.
That is to say, Rowland Lockey was the nom-de-plume of Robert Tudor, the child that Elizabeth had with Michelangelo’s half-African son, in 1557. And Robert/Rowland goes on to make another important point, this time using a technique also found in the work of Paris Bordone, that of distant edge camouflage – stenciling in half the message on one side of the painting, and the rest on the opposite side, so it could only be read by cutting the picture down the middle and reassembling it with the far edges joined:
‘Papa Paris Bordone Papa’ he says, using the same letters for two purposes in places… and calling out to his father Ali: ‘Schiavi Neri Liberatevi’: ‘Black Slaves Free Yourselves’.
It seems that Robert did not spend his entire youth in exile on the Continent: at some point – if anything of the conventional story is to be believed – he was apparently ‘adopted’ by a crossbow maker based in Fleet Street, a man by the name of Leonard Lockey, and contrary to all expectations for the son of a crossbow maker, we are to understand that he was then taken on by the Queen’s miniaturist… at the age of 24, and taught to paint, even though he had already been painting royalty back in 1574, at the age of 16 or 17.
But what did he look like, this Robert Tudor? We have but two reliable likenesses of him:
Rowland Lockey was not the only apprentice of Nicholas Hilliard, though. He had another student also, by the name of Isaac Oliver (although he spelt it ‘Ollivier’), and the interesting thing is that when we look at a portrait of Isaac, he looks vaguely familiar.
We saw him before, in the painting of ‘Domenico Giuliani and his Servant’.
Domenico was the younger man on the left, and the servant the one on the right, counter-intuitively for all those who assumed the darker guy must be the servant. No, the guy with the darker complexion was the prince. The fellow on the right is the servant, and he identified himself in the painting as Bartolomeo Passarotti, the artist who painted it.
Now the thing is, when we put the two likenesses we have of Isaac Oliver together with the one of Bartolomeo Passarotti, they look remarkably alike. And that is not surprising, because they are one and the same person… Isaac Oliver has the name ‘Passarotti’ written across his forehead. In England he was Isaac Oliver, in Italy… Bartolomeo Passarotti.
And so Domenico Giuliani and his ‘servant’ were the two ‘apprentices’ of Nicholas Hilliard, miniaturist to Queen Elizabeth I, and they could not have been better connected. Rowland Lockey had access to Mary Queen of Scots, and the Earl and Duchess of Shrewsbury, because he was the son of Queen Elizabeth 1, and the nephew of Bess of Hardwicke.
What then of the clue provided by their mention in Lomazzo’s great book on art history? Michelangelo’s slave-born son Ali, that is to say Paris Bordone, fathered both Lomazzo and Robert Tudor/Roland Lockey. Lomazzo was Rowland Lockey’s brother, and Bartolomeo Passarotti/Isaac Oliver was Lomazzo’s son. No wonder they both got a mention!
But of course we haven’t stopped to look at who Nicholas Hilliard was, have we?
[To be continued]