This characteristic, beautifully painted portrait by Pompeo Batonidepicts Philip Stanhope the recipient of perhaps the most famous set of letters written in the eighteenth century, sent by his father Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield and published as Letters to His son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman. Stanhope was recorded in Rome between December 1749 and March 1750, where he was staying on Strada Paolina by Easter 1750 with his tutor, Walter Harte.
The present portrait was initially thought to depict a Danish sitter on the basis of a mis-reading of its twentieth-century provenance, but more recently, Sergio Benedetti identified the sitter on the basis of a caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi. The caricature, in the collection of the Istituto Italiano per la Grafica in Rome, shows Stanhope in profile, his exaggerated physiognomy corresponding closely with the features of the sitter in Batoni’s portrait. Both show a high forehead, prominent nose and lips and both are shown wearing their own hair in the style of a fashionable wig. A contemporary observed of Stanhope in Venice that his ‘face is pleasing, his countenance sensible, and his look clever. His figure is at present rather too square; but if he shoots up, which he has matter and years for, he will then be a good size.’
The portrait is undoubtedly of an English sitter. As Bowron has noted, he: ‘is dressed in the English fashion and his costume is similar to those worn by several of Batoni’s British sitters and, like them he also wears a black silk ribbon around his neck in a style called a solitaire.’ As Bowron further observes: ‘Batoni’s various uses of the length of black silk known as a solitaire, worn as a fashionable accoutrement of well-dressed men from about 1730, reveal his dexterity in manipulating the details of sitters’ dress in order to supply each with a unique, fresh image that makes every portrait individual.’ In the present portrait the black silk ribbon is neatly tucked into the sitter’s waistcoat. The pose is one of studied ease: the right hand shown holding a book and the left gesturing in a way that suggests the sitter is engaged in informed discussion. The dress is formal, but not elaborate and the landscape setting subtly points to the schedule of the Grand Tour with the inclusion of a circular building, possibly the sixth-century church of San Teodoro, situated at the foot of the Palatine Hill. As Bowron and Kerber have observed, writing about Batoni’s portraits of the 1750s, the: ‘distinction of these early portraits of Irish and English sitters is their delicate handling, liquid touch, and sensitive rendering of the textures of the sitters’ dress, in particular garments edged with fur, which Batoni used to great effect.’ In the present portrait the rich blue velvet jacket is accented with the fringe of white fur, which is exquisitely rendered.
Bowron commends the ‘sensitively drawn portrait’ and Batoni’s handling of the costume in particular, associating it with a number of similarly treated portraits made around 1750. The pose and costume are recorded on the verso of an autograph drawing by Batoni showing studies of the figure of Anchises in red chalk relating to his great painting of Aeneas’s Flight from Troy painted in 1748 and now in Lucca. Clark accepted the black chalk study on the verso as autograph, but Bowron has suggested that it is not by Batoni, but by another hand who had access to Batoni’s studio. The drawing is a rapid notation of the pose of the sitter in our portrait, showing the careful arrangement of the ribbons of the solitaire, the hang of the blue coat and loose arrangement of the hands. But it seems unlikely to have been made as a ricordo after the completed portrait as the black chalk study differs in crucial details from the finished portrait: the size and arrangements of the sleeves, the precise line of the coat, and the presence of a button on the outside of the left cuff. The strengthened line under the right arm and edge of the coat suggests that the drawing was made whilst the portrait was in progress. The hesitancy of certain lines and the strength of others look like an artist deliberating over the arrangement of costume, rather than copying a completed composition. This is one of only a handful of drawings made in Batoni’s studio that relate specifically to a known portrait and has accompanied the portrait since the middle of the twentieth century.
Stanhope certainly had his portrait painted in Rome. In a letter dated 11 January 1750, Lord Chesterfield enthuses about the news from Rome noting that Stanhope’s tutor, Walter Harte had written to tell him: ‘two things that give me great satisfaction: one is that there are very few English at Rome; the other is that you frequent the best foreign companies.’ He goes on to add: ‘I long for your picture, which Mr Harte tells me is now drawing. I want to see your countenance, your air, and even your dress; the better they all three are, the better I am not wise enough to despise any one of them. Your dress, at least, is in your own power.’ Draw in this sense certainly meant paint. In 1750 there were few portraitists patronised by British patrons in Rome and Batoni was certainly the most successful and prominent. No other portrait of Stanhope is known.
Chesterfield had requested Stanhope’s portrait when he and Harte were in Venice. Stipulating that: ‘I would have you drawn exactly as you are, and in no whimsical dress: and I lay more stress upon the likeness of the picture, than upon the taste and skill of the painter.’ Whilst Chesterfield had asked for a miniature from Venice, he was more likely to demand a painted portrait from Rome. The portrait arrived with Chesterfield in London and he enthused to Stanhope: ‘I have received your picture, which I have long waited for with impatience: I wanted to see your countenance from whence I am very apt, as I believe most people are, to form some general opinion of the mind. If the painter has taken you as well as he has done Mr Harte (for his picture is by far the most like I ever saw in my life), I draw good conclusions from your countenance, which has both spirit and finesse to it. In bulk you are pretty well increased since I saw you; if your height has not increased in proportion, I desire that you will make hast to, complete it. Seriously, I believe that your exercises at Paris will make you shoot up to a good size; your legs, by all accounts, seem to promise it. Dancing excepted, the wholesome part is the best part of those academical exercises.’ The letter is interesting for the mention of two portraits, one of Stanhope and the other of Walter Harte and for Chesterfield’s specific commendation of the portraits’ verisimilitude. This was a feature of Batoni’s portraiture that was much praised at this date by British sitters. As Bowron and Kerber note: ‘Batoni’s skill in capturing an accurate physiognomic likeness was a critical element of his eminence in the field of portraiture. No contemporary portrait painter in Rome could draw more incisively than Batoni, and his skill as a draughtsman meant that few painters could equal his ability to delineate the features of a face. Batoni “values himself for making a striking likeness of everyone he paints” wrote John Thorpe, and accurate likenesses were demanded by Batoni’s clients.’
There is evidence that Walter Harte certainly knew Batoni and had some experience of his painting and prices, he wrote to the traveller Thomas Steavens, whom he and Stanhope had met and befriended in Venice, from Rome on 7 January 1750: ‘here you w.d oblige me with your Picture; for there are two very good Painters, but Pompeio’s price is exorbitant, & therefore I don’t desire you sh.d ever employ him on my score. For a Busto length without hands, he only asks 20 sequins. Nor is he a good draughtsman, tho a lovely colourist.’ This implies that Harte had intimate knowledge of Batoni’s working practice and gives strength to the hypothesis that he had already sat for his portrait. The second painter Harte refers to is presumably Anton Raphael Mengs, there is no evidence that either he or Stanhope sat to Mengs.
Stanhope and Harte had a conventional Grand Tour, overseen at arms-length by Chesterfield, whose letters offered a running commentary on what they should see, do and how they should behave. They undertook a tour of antiquities and were apparently accepted in patrician Roman society. Stanhope evidently encountered Pier Leone Ghezzi who made the satirical profile study now in the Istituto Italiano per la Grafica in Rome.
In Rome Stanhope met and fell in love with Eugenia Peters, they were married in secret in Dresden, Stanhope keen to keep his marriage from his father. In the end Stanhope never lived up to the expectations placed on him by Chesterfield, unable (by temperament or choice) to acquire the graces that his father had tried so hard to impart. He did not rise as expected in the Diplomatic Services, preferring instead an unpretentious domestic life. Often in ill health, he died of dropsy in St Gervais, France on 16 November 1768, aged just 36, he is buried at Vaucluse. It is suggestive that the earliest provenance of the present painting is French.
When Lord Chesterfield died in 1773, his will caused much gossip: while providing for the two grandsons – ₤100 annuity each, plus ₤10,000 – he left Eugenia Stanhope nothing. Faced with the problem of supporting herself, she sold Chesterfield’s letters to the publisher J. Dodsley for fifteen hundred guineas. Chesterfield had never intended them for publication and the result was a storm of controversy due to their perceived immorality, which ensured continual reprints, making it one of the most enduring books of the eighteenth century.
- See Sergio Benedetti, ‘Pier Leone Ghezzi, il giovane Reynolds e I primi ‘milordi’ di Pompeo Batoni’, in ed. Liliana Barroero, Intorno a Batoni, Lucca, 2009, pp.46-48.
- Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, Letters to his son by the Earl of Chesterfield, of the fine art of becoming a man of the world and a gentleman, New York, 1937, p.251.
- Edgar Peters Bowron, Pompeo Batoni, A complete catalogue of his paintings, 2016, vol. I, p.226.
- Edgar Peters Bowron and Peter Björn Kerber, Pompeo Batoni: Prince of Painters in Eighteenth-Century Rome, New Haven and London, 2007, pp.52-53.
- Edgar Peters Bowron, Pompeo Batoni, A complete catalogue of his paintings, 2016, vol. I, p.167.
- Edgar Peters Bowron, Pompeo Batoni, A complete catalogue of his paintings, 2016, vol. I, pp.130-131.
- Anthony M Clark & Edgar Peters Bowron (ed.) Pompeo Batoni: A Complete Catalogue of His Works with an Introductory Text, London, 1985, cat. no.D142, p.384; Edgar Peters Bowron, Pompeo Batoni, A complete catalogue of his paintings, 2016, vol. II, cat. no. D129, p.665.
- Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, Letters to his son by the Earl of Chesterfield, of the fine art of becoming a man of the world and a gentleman, New York, 1937, p.283.
- Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, Letters to his son by the Earl of Chesterfield, of the fine art of becoming a man of the world and a gentleman, New York, 1937, p.223.
- Stanhope and Harte were looked after by Sir James Gray who was the British Resident, although Gray sat to Rosalba Carriera, there is no evidence that either Stanhope or Harte sat to Rosalba in Venice.
- Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, Letters to his son by the Earl of Chesterfield, of the fine art of becoming a man of the world and a gentleman, New York, 1937, p.321.
- Edgar Peters Bowron and Peter Björn Kerber, Pompeo Batoni: Prince of Painters in Eighteenth-Century Rome, New Haven and London, 2007, p.37.
- Quoted in Sergio Benedetti, ‘Pier Leone Ghezzi, il giovane Reynolds e I primi ‘milordi’ di Pompeo Batoni’, in ed. Liliana Barroero, Intorno a Batoni, Lucca, 2009, p.48, n.31.