Lot 8
  • 8

Sir Anthony van Dyck

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Anthony van Dyck
  • Portrait of Anne Sophia, Countess of Carnarvon (d. 1695)
  • inscribed on a label, verso:  ...Anne Sophia, daughter of Philip: Earl of Pem- broke and Montgomery and wife of Robert Dormer, first Earl of Carnarvon, killed at the battle of Newbury 20 Sept. 1643. By Vandyke. 
  • oil on canvas
  • 198 x 129.5 cm.; 78 x 51 in.


Possibly Sir Edmund Verney (d. 1642);

By descent to his son, Sir Ralph Verney (d. 1696);

By descent to his great-grandson, 2nd Earl Verney (d. 1791), at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire;

By inheritance to his niece, Mary, Lady Fermanagh (d. 1810);

By inheritance to her half-sister, Catherine Calvert, later Verney (d. 1827);

By inheritance to her cousin, Sir Harry Calvert, later Verney, 2nd Bt (d. 1894);

Thence by descent until sold

Anonymous sale, London, Christie’s, 6 July 2010, lot 59, where acquired.


Recorded in a manuscript inventory of pictures at Claydon from late in the seventeenth century (possibly drawn up in the time of Sir Ralph Verney): ' ... a blew Gowne a bracelet of [?pearl] on her Rt Arme & a Ring on her little finger of her RH';

M.M. Verney, Memoirs of the Verney family during the Commonwealth, London and New York 1894, p. 246;

S. Barnes, O. Millar, et al., Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London 2004, pp. 456–57, no. IV.40, reproduced.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Portrait of the Countess of Carnarvon. This great Van Dyck portrait has always been preserved in the same family until very recently. This peaceful background is clearly evident in the beautiful overall condition. There is a fine even craquelure throughout and the rich glazing of the satin drapery and of the lovely brocade hangings behind the figure have been preserved finely intact. The comparatively recent lining could date from the middle of the last century and the strong stretcher from the turn of the previous century, with traces of early stretcher bar lines being rather narrower. Traces of some slightly more distinct craquelure across the chest might stem from a crossbar. A small rectangle painted out in the left base corner presumably carried a collection number or crest. The sense of space and depth around the figure remains richly intact. Under ultra violet light retouching is rare, and mainly to be seen up the right edge, with one or two isolated darkened retouchings in the shadows on the right of the skirt at the level of the hips. Occasional minor touches can also be found along the old stretcher bar lines at the top and left edges. The beautiful almost untouched condition is rare. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Painted circa 1636, at the height of Van Dyck’s career during the halcyon years in London before the English Civil War, this grand yet beautifully restrained portrait conveys a sober dignity seldom seen in the artist’s work. The smooth handling and soft tonality of the face is typical of Van Dyck’s very finest female portraiture, while the blond curls of her hair are panted with a fresh, lively touch. Described by the contemporary diarist Bulstrode Whitelocke as ‘a Lady of excellent Witt & Discourse’, the sitter, Anne Sophia, Countess of Carnarvon, was the wife of one of the wealthiest men in England and the daughter of Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke, a noted courtier and royal favourite, who was one of Van Dyck’s most important early patrons.

Having briefly visited London in 1620, Van Dyck’s appointment as Principal Painter in Ordinary to King Charles I in 1632 heralded a new era in British portraiture. In Van Dyck Charles found an artist who’s talent and ambition matched his own vision for the Stuart monarchy and the portraits the artist produced over the next decade would include some of his most powerful and inventive work. By distilling the rhetoric of the art of the Counter Reformation, which he had known in Antwerp, and transferring it to the great tradition of grand manner English portraiture, which had flourished in the reign of Elizabeth I, he invested a new verve and fluidity into English art which had never been seen before. The series of royal portraits he painted of Charles, his wife Queen Henrietta Maria, and their children, are unsurpassed in the history of European royal portraiture, and perhaps only rivalled by those painted by Velázquez, over a much longer period, for Philip IV of Spain. More significantly, of all the foreign-born artists who worked in England, including Holbein, Rubens and Lely, it is Van Dyck whose work had the most deep-rooted and profound effect upon painting in this country and his shadow looms large over portraiture in Britain to this day.

As with all his very best portraits of the leading aristocrats and courtiers of the Caroline era, this magnificent painting conveys with subtlety his sitter’s noble bearing and an air of well-bred courtly gentility. Her consciously pared down and simplified dress glows with the rich texture of satin, while the details of her jewellery are painted with a crisp, accurate touch. She is the embodiment of modest nobility, dignity and grace. The daughter of Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke and Lady Susan de Vere, the daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, Anne Sophia married in 1625 Robert Dormer, 1st Earl of Carnarvon, one of the wealthiest men in England. Both her father and her husband were prominent figures at the Court of Charles I. The Earl of Pembroke had first attracted the attention of Charles’ father, King James I, as a young man and had served in his Court as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.

Retaining royal favour with the new King, in 1625 Pembroke had escorted the Queen, Henrietta Maria, from Paris to England and served as Lord Chamberlain in the royal household, as well as Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, Somerset, Wiltshire and Cornwall. Wilton, his family seat in Wiltshire, was renowned among contemporaries as the ‘Apiarie, to which Men, that were excellent in Armies and Arts did resort and were caressed’, and he directed much of the wealth that he derived from such royal favour towards the improvement of the house, establishing one of the finest collections of paintings and sculpture of the age. Indeed Pembroke was one of Van Dyck’s most important early patrons. Among a series of portraits of himself and his family commissioned from the artist is the celebrated monumental family group at Wilton, in which the present sitter and her husband feature, and which is the largest surviving picture in Van Dyck’s entire œuvre (fig. 1). An active patron of literature, as well as painting, Pembroke’s love of art was a bond he shared with the King. In 1637, when Charles I was sent a shipment of paintings by Pope Urban VIII, Pembroke was one of a select group invited by Charles to join him in opening the cases, together with the Queen, Inigo Jones and Henry Rich, 1st Earl Holland.

However, a staunch Protestant, who was sympathetic to Puritanism, Pembroke’s political and religious beliefs became increasingly at odds with those of the King during the late 1630s and early 1640s. In 1641 he was removed as Lord Chamberlain and at the outbreak of the Civil War Pembroke sided with the Parliamentarians. Though he was always one of the more moderate voices on the parliamentary side, and lobbied for a reconciliation with the crown on several occasions, Pembroke’s allegiance caused a rupture in relations with his daughter and son-in-law, Lord Carnarvon, who remained loyal to the King and was killed commanding a royalist troop of horse at the first Battle of Newbury in 1643.

Lady Carnarvon’s husband, Robert Dormer, 1st Earl of Carnarvon was the son of Sir William Dormer and his wife Alice Molyneux. The Dormer family had risen to power and influence under the Tudors, through a series of strategic marriages to many of the great Catholic families in the Midlands and Northern England; and held the hereditary title of Chief Avenor and Keeper of the King’s Hawks and Falcons. Educated at Eton College and Oxford University, he was reportedly ‘extremely wild in his youth’ and ‘wholly delighted with hunting, hawking and the like’. Shortly after his marriage he embarked on a Grand Tour and was described by Clarendon as ‘a more observant traveler than most’, and Clarendon also praised his courage, his presence of mind and his skillful generalship in the field during the Civil War. When not at Court, where he and his wife regularly performed in masques, Dormer lived at Ascott House in Buckinghamshire, and in 1628 was created Viscount Ascott and Earl of Carnarvon.  

In this portrait Lady Carnarvon appears a little younger than she does in the Pembroke family group, suggesting a date of execution before 1635. As Oliver Millar has suggested, her father’s position at Court would have given his family early access to Van Dyck, following his arrival in London, and it is possible the artist was working on portraits of members of the Herbert family as early as 1633. First recorded in a late seventeenth-century manuscript at Claydon Park, in Buckinghamshire, this portrait is thought to have been painted for Sir Edmund Verney (1590–1642), another prominent courtier, with whom Lady Carnarvon’s family were on friendly terms. Another royal favourite, Verney had served in the household of the King’s elder brother, Henry, Prince of Wales, whose early death at the age of eighteen deprived England of one of its greatest champions of the arts. Later appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Charles I, Verney remained a staunch royalist through the political turmoil of the 1640s, serving in the King’s forces during both the Bishops’ Wars and the Civil War, and was killed at the Battle of Edgehill carrying the King’s standard. ‘A man of great courage, and generally beloved’, Verney sat to Van Dyck for a three-quarter-length portrait of his own circa 1639–40 (Private collection, on loan to the National Portrait Gallery, London; fig. 2).