One of the finest Jacobean portraits is purchased for the nation and will remain at its historic home in Wales

Press release
Breaking news
Published : 16 Aug 2016 Last update : 29 Sep 2017

One of the most important miniature paintings of the Jacobean age has been purchased for the nation thanks to a funding partnership between the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), Art Fund and the National Trust.

The miniature portrait of Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury by Isaac Oliver has been on display as one of the star items in the collection at its historic home, Powis Castle, near Welshpool, which is cared for by the National Trust.

This magnificent miniature shows Herbert as the fashionable, romantic, melancholic young lover, his head resting on his hand, as he lies stretched out along the banks of a stream running through a shady forest. His shield bears the inscription Magia Sympathiae and a burning heart. Lord Herbert’s own life reflected this image of the knightly romantic.

Having been offered for sale by the London Fine Art agents, Omnia Art Ltd, on behalf of a private owner, the painting has been secured in perpetuity for Wales and the nation thanks to generous grants and donations. It has been bought by the National Trust for £2.1 million with funds including £1.5 million from NHMF, £300,000 from the Art Fund, and other donations.

The painting is a cabinet miniature portrait of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1583 – 1648), famed poet, socialite, philosopher and statesman. He lived at Montgomery Castle and was first cousin of Sir William Herbert, 1st Lord Powis.

It was painted between c.1602-1617, by Isaac Oliver, the royal miniaturist, and pupil of Nicholas Hilliard. It is 230mm x 189mm, watercolour on vellum, mounted on oak board, in a contemporary 17th-century tortoiseshell and ebony frame

Justin Albert, National Trust Director for Wales, said:

“We are so proud and honoured to be involved in the partnership that has brought about such an exceptional acquisition that is so important for Welsh, British and indeed European heritage.

“We are greatly indebted to those organisations and individuals whose generous donations have enabled us to purchase this incredible painting and keep it in the collection at Powis.

“Powis Castle already offers our visitors the chance to enjoy one of the finest collections of European and South Asian artefacts managed by the National Trust and we are sure they will be glad that the painting is to stay at its historic home.

“But as a conservation charity we aim to look after special objects for ever and for everyone to enjoy and this painting is fragile and in need of some careful conservation work. So, before it returns to its historic home we will carry out some essential work.

“Once that is complete we hope to be able to share this painting more widely in other locations. We feel this is one way of saying thank you to all those who have helped secure the future residence of this magnificent work of art in Wales and the UK.”

Fiona Talbott, Head of NHMF, said:
“This is an exquisite miniature which belongs in its original context of Powis Castle.  There’s no doubt it’s also a star of the Powis collection, standing out for both its artistry and the colourful story it tells of Elizabethan and Jacobean court culture.

“The National Heritage Memorial Fund was set up to secure the future of heritage treasures. Thanks to it and other funders as well as the National Trust’s expert custodianship, the Lord Herbert of Cherbury miniature will be conserved and fully researched before going back on public display.”

Sarah Philp, Director of Programmes, Art Fund said: “We are very happy to have been able to support this extraordinary miniature of an extraordinary man, which constructs a fascinating vision of courtly life in Renaissance England. It is one of the undisputed gems of the National Trust and belongs at Powis Castle, for everyone to see and enjoy.”

Charles FitzRoy of Omnia Art Ltd said: "The figure of Lord Herbert, with its connotations of chivalry and romance, possesses a poetic lyricism that places it at the pinnacle of Jacobean art."

The painting will undergo conservation over the next few months. The Trust is in discussion with other organisations and museums about the possibility of loans of the artwork before it returns to Powis Castle.