House of Portraits

Visit our ‘House of Portraits’ exhibition and uncover the fascinating secrets hidden within our world-class collection of portraiture.

The great halls and quiet chambers of Powis Castle are full of exceptional portraits. From majestic full-length portraits, to intimate miniatures that can be held in the palm of your hand, they are the work of generations of talented artists.

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

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.

Choose an audio tour or a family audio tour, and explore the exhibition with Dr John Chu, Assistant Curator of Pictures and Sculpture, National Trust, for a unique opportunity to explore the world-class collection through the eyes of an expert.

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 Cherbury, a statesman, poet, diplomat, musician and knight. He epitomised the romance and chivalry of his age and he knew it!

Isaac Oliver (about 1565–1617) Sir Edward Herbert, later 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury (1581/2–1648) c.1613–14
Watercolour of Sir Edward Herbert, later 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury
Isaac Oliver (about 1565–1617) Sir Edward Herbert, later 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury (1581/2–1648) c.1613–14

During his life, he commissioned numerous portraits of himself from the most fashionable artists of the day, some of which are at Powis Castle; not least this British masterpiece by the royal painter, Isaac Oliver.

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.

Important moments and achievements in Herbert family history were recorded by portrait painters, but the cost meant the sitter had only one opportunity to capture their message and express their character in a masterpiece that would be passed down the generations. Portraits commissioned by family members 400 years ago, still hang proudly on the walls inside the castle for all to see.

During your visit we’ll be inviting you to compose and share your own portraits in a series of ‘selfies. How would you convey your character and message if your portrait was to last 400 years as those of the Herbert family have done?

House of Portraits runs from 20 March 2018 – 27 January 2019