House of Portraits

Miniature of Lord Herbert of Chirbury by Issac Oliver

Powis’ great halls and quiet chambers are full of pictures of real people. From majestic full-length portraits to intimate miniatures that can be held in the palm of your hand, they are the work of many talented artists and the result of generations of patronage.

Some of these works of art feature kings, emperors and maharajas but the overwhelming majority of these pictures depict men, women and children of the Herbert family who have lived at Powis for over four centuries.

This year our ‘House of Portraits’ exhibition will delve beneath the surface of works by prominent artists such as Joshua Reynolds, John Singer Sargent and Thomas Gainsborough to uncover the hidden meanings within them.

To celebrate

The centrepiece of the exhibition is one of the National Trust’s recently acquired treasures – a Jacobean miniature portrait by Isaac Oliver (1565-1617, purchased for the nation with help from National Heritage Memorial Fund and the ArtFund.

The miniature features Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Chirbury, a statesman, poet, diplomat, musician and knight. He epitomised the romance and chivalry of the late Elizabethan age, and he knew it!

During his life, he commissioned numerous portraits of himself from the most fashionable portrait artists of the day, some of which are at Powis Castle; not least this exquisite miniature by Isaac Oliver, Royal Miniaturist, and Herbert’s friend.

In the portrait handsome Lord Herbert adopts a relaxed pose, lying in the woods, following a joust, while gazing directly at the painter, attempting to woo admirers. But who was the painting intended for, what was its purpose, and what is the significance of his shield with its inscription Magica Sympathiae?

To explore

Most of us no longer sit patiently as famous artists put brush to canvas to capture our likeness; however we are all familiar with posing for photographs to record key moments in our lives.

We think that projecting a positive image of ourselves is a relatively new thing; however that is exactly what portrait painters did for their Subjects centuries ago.

During your visit we’ll be inviting you to compose your own portraits in a series of ‘selfies’, asking you to draw parallels between ‘portraits’ of our modern lives and those captured by portrait painters over the last 400 years.