The Great Picture
Attributed to Jan van Belcamp
The Great Picture Triptych
Oil on canvas
Centre panel: 254 x 254cm
Side panels: 254 x 119.38cm
Lady Anne Clifford, 1590-1676
The Great Picture is a remarkable triptych, a three-sectioned format typically reserved for religious works. It was commissioned by Lady Anne Clifford in 1646 to mark her final succession to the inheritance that she had always felt was rightfully hers.
Lady Anne was born in 1590, the daughter of Margaret Russell and George Clifford, third Earl of Cumberland. The Earl, a favourite at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, died in 1605 when Lady Anne was fifteen years old. He left all of the Clifford estates not to Lady Anne, his only surviving heir, but to his brother Francis, who became fourth Earl of Cumberland. Though Lady Anne and her mother petitioned for the return of the Clifford lands for decades, it was not until the death of her uncle in 1641, followed two years later by his son Henry, who left no male heirs, that Lady Anne finally inherited estates in Westmorland and Yorkshire.
Lady Anne did not leave London for the North until 1649, probably due to the unstable political climate during the Civil War. On her tour of the region she found that many of her castles were in ruins, and her estates in great need of repair. She wasted no time in rebuilding her castles at Skipton, Appleby and Brougham, as well as repairing neighbouring churches and settling long-running disputes with her tenants. She continued to enjoy the fruits of her inheritance and hard work for the remaining twenty-seven years of her life, and was a greatly respected figure at the time of her death in 1676.
The Clifford family castles are located at Skipton, Pendragon, Brough, Brougham and Appleby, where this triptych originally hung.
The Great Picture, 1646
This monumental painting presents the family history and accomplishments of Lady Anne Clifford using a combination of portraiture, text and symbolism.
The left side panel of the triptych depicts Lady Anne Clifford at the age of fifteen, when she was disinherited. Portraits of Lady Anne’s governess, Mrs. Anne Taylor, and her tutor, the poet Samuel Daniel, are placed above the shelves of books, which include titles by Ovid, Chaucer, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. These elements of the composition highlight Lady Anne’s education and refined upbringing.
The right side panel shows Lady Anne in late middle age, when she finally regained the Clifford estates. Portraits of Lady Anne’s two husbands hang behind her: Richard Sackville, third Earl of Dorset, who died in 1624, and Philip Herbert, fourth Earl of Pembroke and first Earl of Montgomery, who died in 1650. The depiction of Lady Anne at fifty-six was used as the model for many subsequent portraits and is probably the only likeness in The Great Picture to have been painted from life.
The central panel depicts Lady Anne’s parents, Margaret Russell and George Clifford, third Earl of Cumberland, with her older brothers who did not survive to adulthood: Francis (1584-1589) and Robert (1585-1591). On the walls behind the family group hang portraits of Lady Anne’s four aunts. As Lady Anne was not born until 1590, she does not appear in the central panel as such, but Lady Margaret’s gesture hints that the daughter who would ultimately become the Clifford heir had already been conceived at the time of the original painting.
The triptych is a composite work by a skilled copyist working from miniatures, portraits and whatever gowns and armour were still in Lady Anne’s possession. The piece has been attributed to Jan van Belcamp (1610-1653), a Dutch artist active in England who was a specialist in this genre. The inscriptions were added by a different hand, possibly by the same scribe who copied out Lady Anne’s Great Bookes of Record, which were begun by Lady Anne’s mother in an attempt to gather evidence to support her daughter’s claim to her inheritance, and which were ultimately completed by Lady Anne herself.
The Great Picture hung in Appleby Castle for over three hundred years. It is believed that the Appleby painting, now belonging to the Lakeland Arts Trust, is the original, while an inferior copy, now lost and which is known only through a watercolour copy made in the 19th century, hung in Skipton Castle.
In 1981, the Lakeland Arts Trust seized the opportunity to purchase The Great Picture, along with 58 related portraits, at a greatly reduced price in order to keep the works in Cumbria. The intention was that The Great Picture would continue to hang in Appleby Castle on long term loan for all to enjoy. Sadly, Appleby Castle subsequently closed its doors to the public, and The Great Picture had to be brought to Abbot Hall where, initially, only the side panels were on display. In June 2011, after a great deal of complex planning, the central panel, which is too large to enter Abbot Hall by conventional means, was craned into the building through a window and the complete triptych is now on show in its entirety for all to enjoy.
The complete triptych was lent to the Art Treasures of England exhibition held at the Royal Academy in London in 1998. From March 2003 until October 2004, The Great Picture was the subject of a special display at Tate Britain.
The Great Picture was purchased in 1981 through a private treaty sale, and with the aid of grants from:
Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund
The National Heritage Memorial Fund
The National Art-Collections Fund (Fulham Fund)
Eden District Council
Appleby Town Council
Cumbria County Council
South Lakeland District Council
Kendal Town Council
Ferguson Industrial Holdings
Greenwood Charitable Trust
And other generous donations