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Portrait Detectives

Extra Information on 'A Portrait of a Man of the Delves Family'

A Man of DelvesWhat we see in this portrait is a man wearing very fashionable clothes and expensive pearls. Together with the large gardens and house in the background they tell us that he was very rich. However, this is not the whole story. This is quite a mysterious portrait with many 'clues' for us to examine.

The Inscriptions

Firstly, the writing in the top left hand corner is in Italian and means 'I value only love and fame.' This thought is echoed in the leaves on either side of the man. We see myrtle on the left representing love, and laurel (or bay) on the right symbolising fame. He is standing between the love and the fame mentioned in the writing. This man obviously wants a lot from life.

On the right and bottom are two verses that tell us a bit more about how this man feels. They read:

TH[E] COURT WHOSE OUTWARD SHOES
SET[S] FORH A WORLD OF JOYES
HA[E]TH FLATTERED ME TO LONG
TH[A]T WANDRED IN HER TOYES
W[H]EAR SHOULD THE THIRSTI DRINK
BUT WHEAR THE FOUNTAIN RON
THE HOEP OF SUCH RELIEF
H[A]ETH ALMOST ME UNDON


The court whose outward shows
Sets for a world of joys
Has flattered me too long
That wandered in her toys
Where should the thirsty drink
But where the fountain runs
The hope of such relief
Has almost me undone

THE WARS HEATH WAST MI WEALT[H]
AND BROGH MI YOUTH IN CAER
AND TIME CONSUMED BY STEALTH
AS TROTH CAN WEL DECLAER
WHEARIN I SOGHT FOR FAEM
OR [AT] THE LEAST SOM GAYN
IN FINE MY HOEL REWARD
WAS NOGHT BUT WOE AND PA[IN]

The wars have wasted my wealth
And brought my youth in care
And time consumed by stealth
As truth can well declare
Wherein I sought for fame
Or at the least some gain
In fine my whole reward
Was nought but woe and pain

What he is saying is that he has worked hard for fame and wealth, but instead he has achieved little and lost a great deal. He is obviously unhappy with his life.

Who Are The People In The Portrait?

The woman on the left of the painting supports this idea. She is holding his hand, and myrtle leaves (symbolic of love) suggest that they are married. However, she is almost out of the portrait as if she is disappearing. Also her face is partly hidden by leaves. She may have been dead when this portrait was painted. Attached to his wrist he has a ring with writing on it. It reads 'Non Dapo [C....]' which is probably the Italian phrase 'non dapoco'. This means 'not long after'. He obviously misses her.

We are not sure of the name of the man in the portrait. He is probably either Henry or George Delves of Doddington Hall, Cheshire - probably George. We know this from the coat of arms of the Delves family in the bottom right corner, and their motto, 'Defy Fortune'. This basically means that if you suffer bad luck you should work to make things better. The woman is probably George's first wife, Christiana.

George Delves was born around 1537. This portrait was painted when he was about forty. He was a captain in the English Army in Ireland. There he fought against the Irish for Queen Elizabeth I. He was rewarded with land and a castle. In 1569 he sold these and returned to England. After several jobs including Justice of the Peace, MP and government posts, he became Sir George in 1591. His armour is in a pile in the bottom right hand corner of the painting. This represents his life in the army and shows us that he has left it forever.

We know from historical records that Sir George came from a rich family. He had a good military career and land in Ireland. However, by the time this portrait was painted he had left or lost his land in Ireland and his wife was possibly dead. He had also failed to get a high government job and had left his army career. This is a portrait of someone unhappy with his life.

About The Painting

We don't know who the artist was but he was probably from the Netherlands. The painting isn't on canvas but on seven wooden boards, with one horizontal board forming the head section. The remaining six run down the painting to form the main body of the painting. Tudor portraits of this size are quite rare. The painting looks like it has been trimmed on either side: it has but only by about an inch and a half (about three centimetres).

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