Anne Clifford – Power and Patronage

In this post, Laura steps slightly out of the MALMECC time period to write about Lady Anne Clifford and the ‘Great Picture’, an important work of female patronage now housed at the Abbot Hall Art Gallery and Museum, Kendal, Cumbria


From 16th-18th July, project member Laura Slater attended the conference: Lady Anne Clifford: Engagements in Culture at the Abbot Hall Art Gallery and Museum, Kendal, Cumbria. The gallery is home to an important work of female cultural patronage: the ‘Great Picture’ commissioned by Lady Anne Clifford around 1646, perhaps from the Flemish artist Jan van Belcamp.


A large three paneled piece depicting left, a girl with books and a lute, centre, a family group, and right, an older lady with books and dog

Attributed to Jan van Belcamp, The Great Picture Triptych (1646), Abbot Hall Art Gallery


Lady Anne Clifford was one of the most formidable women in seventeenth-century England. She was the only child of George Clifford, third earl of Cumberland, a leading light of the Elizabethan court and an intrepid privateer who made numerous expeditions to the Azores. Much of his time was spent in the traditional courtly pursuits of jousting, gambling, horse racing and womanising, leading to the loss of much of his fortune. He owned great estates in Yorkshire and Cumbria. One of his fellow-courtiers complained that he was: ‘the rudest Earll by reson of his northerly bringen up’.

When he died in 1605, Anne was fifteen. She discovered that her father had disinherited her, leaving all his wealth and property to her uncle, his brother. Supported by her mother, Lady Margaret, Anne embarked on a mammoth legal fight to regain what she saw as her rightful inheritance. She married twice, first to Richard Sackville, third earl of Dorset and second to Philip Herbert, fourth earl of Pembroke. Both marriages were unhappy. Anne spent much time at court as a young woman, waiting on James I’s queen, Anne of Denmark and taking part in courtly masques. She spent the Civil War at Baynard’s Castle in London, one of the properties of her estranged second husband. In 1643, the death of her uncle’s heir meant that Anne’s father’s lands finally reverted back to his daughter. It wasn’t until 1649, when the Civil War ended, that Anne was finally able to travel north to take possession of her inheritance. She never set foot in the south again.


 “the Great Picture is an emphatic statement of her great learning and intellectual interests.


A detail of books from the ‘Great Picture’

Two versions of the Great Picture were made, to hang in the Great Halls of Anne’s castles at Appleby and Skipton (the Skipton version was probably destroyed in the nineteenth century). The Picture takes the form of a triptych. On the left-hand panel, we see Anne at the age of fifteen, when she was disinherited. She is surrounded by the accomplishments of her girlhood and portraits of her childhood tutor, Samuel Daniel, and her governess Mrs Taylour. Books are found in every panel of the triptych, with their titles written out. They include the Bible, collections of sermons and exegetical works, Augustine’s City of God and the history of the church written by Eusebius. There are other works by classical writers and volumes of history and philosophy: Ovid, Boethius, Epictetus and Plutarch, for example. And there are novels, poems and romances: ‘all the works’ of Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spenser, Castiglione’s Courtier, Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia. Anne was committed bibliophile, and the Great Picture is an emphatic statement of her great learning and intellectual interests.


The central panel shows her beloved mother, Lady Margaret, with her father, George Clifford, and portraits of Anne’s two brothers, who died in childhood at the ages of five and six. They are dressed in what look like ‘skirts’, because during this period, young boys did not start wearing trousers or breeches until the age of seven. The four portraits on the wall show Anne’s aunts, all set in much more elaborate frames than the two images of family servants on the left panel. Lady Margaret gestures to her two dead sons, and her other hand points towards her womb, indicating the presence of the foetal Anne in the picture. Although both Anne and her mother were staunch Protestants, there are strong echoes here of traditional religious images of the Annunciation, with Anne taking the place of Christ Incarnate. On the right-hand panel, Anne is shown in late middle age, now the triumphant lord over her ancestral estates. Portraits of her two husbands hang behind her. This sober, black-garbed depiction is the only image in the Great Picture that may have been painted ‘from life’.



Music forms an essential part of her projection of social privilege and landed power


Detail of music from the ‘Great Picture’

On the left-hand panel, the youthful Anne is turning the pages of a manuscript of musical notation. The scholar Lynn Hulse has suggested that the image was probably copied from a set of part-books for playing the viol. Yet while we see bars containing clefts and neumes, this is not a ‘real’ piece of music. Rather, it is an artistic impression of music, a visual representation of notes that cannot really be played.

A double-headed twelve-course lute stands against the table. Anne may well have been taught the lute as a child, either by the lutenist to the royal household, Thomas Cardell, or her tutor’s brother, John Daniel, a lutenist and composer who joined the household of the future Charles I in 1617. She also seems to have been taught to play the viol by the renowned composer and viol performer, John Jenkins. Yet while music was seen at the time as the ‘chiefest ornament’ of well-born women, the inclusion of the lute here probably has a symbolic meaning. Due to their distinctive shape, lutes were associated with female fertility and sexuality. And as representations of musical harmony, they were also associated with marriage.  The nearly-sixty-year-old Anne is portraying her past self here as the ultimate eligible marital partner: educated and accomplished, well-read, skilled in music and embroidery, and the rightful heir to a great estate. Music forms an essential part of her projection of social privilege and landed power.



Lynn Hulse, ‘In Sweet Musicke Did Your Soule Delight’ in Karen Hearn and Lynn Hulse, ed. Lady Anne Clifford: Culture, Patronage and Gender in 17th Century Britain (Yorkshire Archaeological Society, 2009), pp. 87-97.


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