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Francis Bacon’s Portraits from Life

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Date: 1618 Artist: Studio of Paul van Somer 1 (c. 1577 – 1621)
Location: Royal Society, London
Medium: oil painting
Provenance: Folkes Collection, bequeathed to the Royal Society, 1754
Image credit: source unknown

Over fifty years ago, the National Portrait Gallery’s Catalogue of Tudor and Jacobean Portraits attributed this painting to Abraham Blyenberch who was working in London between 1617-20. However, according to the Royal Society, it originated from the studio of Paul van Somer I.

Francis is formally depicted as Lord High Chancellor, wearing the gold embroidered robes of office and holding a letter in his left hand. The letter is addressed: “To the Honorable Francis Lord Verulam, Lord Chancellor of England.” On the table beside him is the purse of the Great Seal of England. Sir Roy Strong believed that this portrait was “the fount of many posthumous images of Bacon.” Even so, the unnatural and somewhat clumsy treatment of the hands suggest that this particular portrait may not have been wholly painted from life.