Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Gerlach Flicke (fl. 1545-1558)

"Such was the face of Gerlach Flicke when he was a painter in the City of London. This, he himself painted from a looking glass for his dear friends. So that they might have something to remember him after his death."

(National Portrait Gallery, London)

So reads the latin text which sits atop the left hand panel of this remarkable double portrait.

Flicke arrived in England around 1545 where he presented himself to the Tudor court as the heir apparent to that genius of early portraiture, Hans Holbein. The welcome he received and opinions on the quality of his art in comparison to Holbein have not been recorded, but clues to his reception can perhaps be gleaned from his imprisonment in the Tower of London before the year was out. Nothing is known of Flicke's crime or his time in prison other than the work above which was almost certainly executed during his time in the Tower of London. The inscription probably indicates that he expected to be executed.

The bearded gentleman on the right is Henry Strangwish, a "gentleman pirate" nicknamed "Red Rover of the Channel" who dreamt of "stealing an island" from the King of Spain and terrorised Spanish ships only to be repeatedly pardoned for his crimes by his influential friends, including Elizabeth I. The inscription on the right panel reads, "Strangwish, thus strangely depicted is One prisoner, for thother, hath done this/ Gerlin, hath garnisht, for his delight This woorck whiche you se, before youre sight." Again, nothing is known of Strangwish's imprisonment or the relationship between the pair of prisoners, but looking at them posing earnestly with lute and palette it is impossible not to speculate on the words that may have been exchanged as the wild haired, lute-wielding English pirate posed for the somehow disgraced painter from Germany. It is thought that the painting was Flicke's gift to Strangwish, a remembrance of their friendship in adverse circumstances.

Flicke may not have gained significant employment as an artist in England but when he painted this tiny double portrait, just 4 inches tall, while holed up in the Tower of London he created a striking work of art - the first self portrait executed in oils in England. A painting that certainly provided "something to remember him after his death."

An analysis of the methods behind this work can be enjoyed here.


David said...

Love the story behind this.

Michael Donovan said...

You have a fantastic blog.