Francis Bacon as a child aged 1-2 years-- oil painting (c.1561-62) artist unknown.


Sir Francis Bacon as a Child

by Peter Dawkins

This essay appeared in Peter Dawkins excellent book, Dedication to the Light.

In this portrait the child, Francis, is pictured holding an apple in his right hand, whilst holding his left hand over his heart. No detail of good Renaissance painting was without an intended symbolic meaning, particularly those pictures commissioned or executed by the learned progenitors of the English Renaissance and Reformation. The is an age old symbol of the fruit of knowledge, and in this early portrait of Francis is prophecied Francis' later words and actions, " I have taken all knowledge for my province." This is his field of action, signified by his right hand, but balanced by his left hand on his heart, charitable and useful. This sums up the whole motivation and life of this great soul, and it can even be sensed in his face as portrayed here, with his rich dark brown eyes or hazel eyes, like those of his brother, Essex, his mother, Queen Elizabeth, his father, Earl of Leicester, and his grandmother, Anne Boleyn. (The Bacon family inherited predominantly grey-blue coloured eyes. See Jean Overton Fuller's Sir Francis Bacon, A Biography, for a discussion of this.)

See B&W enlargement of painting (98K)

The framed miniature suspended on the double chain around Francis' shoulders is clearly also placed there carefully. But why the double chain? Looking carefully it would appear that there are in fact two miniatures, the top and larger one concealing a smaller framed miniature beneath, and that there is therefore a chain for each one. The top miniature depicts what appears to be a bearded nobleman, with ladies kneeling on each side of him. The most reasonable explanation for the minatures is that they are intended to portray Francis' parents, and at first glance one would think the top(visible) portrait was that of his father, with the portrait of his mother hidden from view underneath. But why hide the picture of his mother? Surely this would either be an insult to the mother, supposedly Lady Anne Bacon, or else the painter was instructed by the two parents to deliberately paint it this way. The latter must certainly have been the case, as Sir Nicholas Bacon would certainly not have insulted his wife.

So what is the picture saying? The miniature is too small to tell whether the man depicted is in fact Sir Nicholas Bacon. From what can be seen, it would appear that the forehead is too high, face and beard too narrow, and clothing too much like a courtier-soldier's, to be Sir Nicholas. The miniature also seems to be portraying the man's right arm raised as if about to forcibly smite or reject the woman kneeling before him, to his right, and falling backwards from him whilst he looks over his head; whilst the other woman, kneeling on his left and slightly behind him, in the shadows, clings to him and holds on to his left arm. Following the same symbolic basis of the larger portrait of Francis, this miniature would seem to be depicting the forcible and uncaring rejection of a lover---a mistress or even a wife--- by the man, even to the extent of a physical injury being given to her; whilst the inward urge giving rise to this action lies with his close relationship with the woman clinging to his left arm. This is not Sir Nicholas' story; but it is the tale of Francis' real father, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. If this really is what the painter was trying to convey, then it also makes absolute sense of why the portrait miniature of the mother is concealed, she being too regal and well known a personage not to be noticed if displayed, and to whom complete secrecy as to her motherhood was essential if she were to maintain her public image as the Virgin Queen.

These details of the portrait are, by themselves, too abtruse to reveal the truth, but when the viewer already has a knowledge of Francis' true parentage, his childhood genius, his education and expectations, then the symbology of this portait fits into place nicely and exactly.


This essay appeared in Peter Dawkins excellent book, Dedication to the Light.

The book can be ordered from The Francis Bacon Research Trust