The Somerset House Conference, 19 August 1604

This very large group portrait is a commemoration of the treaty of peace between England and Spain in 1604. When James I ascended the throne in 1603 he was determined to end the 20-year war with Spain. This coincided with Philip III of Spain's realization that there was little chance of achieving his father, Philip II's, aim of the destruction of Protestantism in England, and so he too was anxious to end hostilities. The peace negotiations between England and Spain took place at Somerset House on the Strand, London, from May to August 1604. Eighteen sessions were held there by the commissioners, between 20 May and 16 July, that a 'peace of fine amity and friendship' might be agreed upon. Ten sittings dealt with the English and Dutch, and the remainder with trading matters and the Inquisition. By 16 July the treaty terms were acceptable to both sides, laying the way open for formal ratification, although no concessions were wrung from the Spanish on trade.

This painting is thought to be a contemporary copy of the painting at the National Portrait Gallery, commemorating the signing of the treaty on 28 August. In the middle foreground is an oblong table, with the six commissioners for Spain and the Empire depicted on the left and the five English on the right. Beyond is a leaded window with an olive tree in front and there are tapestries on the left and right walls. The tapestry on the left wall shows the biblical story of King David and Uriah the Hittite, where David arranged for Uriah to die in battle so that he could marry Uriah's wife, Bathsheba, already pregnant with David's child. The contrast of the tapestry with the olive tree, therefore, makes a point about the behaviour of the English and Spanish delegates in the negotiations, the Spanish linked to David, the English to the olive, a symbol of peace. This is likely to be one of a set of tapestries showing the 'History of David' sold in the dispersal of Charles I's collection in the 1650s. His father James I had inherited Henry VIIIs' large collection of tapestries, which included various sets of the story of King David.

The commissioners are shown seated in strict order of precedence, with the most important placed next to the window. Each of the sitters is numbered or lettered and the keys are in the bottom right and left hand corners. Nearest the window on the right is Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset, who led the English delegation. Next to him, facing the viewer is the Lord High Admiral Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham, wearing a white silver-laced doublet and skull cap. He had commanded the English fleet against the Armada. In front of him is Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire, wearing green, gold-braided clothes, with the George emblem of the Garter hanging from a blue ribbon round his neck. His hands clasped, he is positioned in profile gazing at his opposite number across the table. Next is Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, dressed in black with a white ruff. He holds a paper in his right hand and gazes out towards the viewer. In the front is Robert Cecil, Viscount Cranborne, later Earl of Salisbury, wearing black clothes and a white ruff with his left hand resting on the arm of the chair. On the left of the picture is the Spanish and Flemish delegation consisting of three commissioners for the King of Spain and three Flemish commissioners for the Archduke Albert of Austria. Nearest the window is Juan de Velasco, Duke of Frias, Constable of Castile, the leader of the Austro/Flemish and Spanish delegation, looking towards the viewer. Although included in the picture he had pleaded ill-health and did not attend the conference. Next to him is Juan de Tassis, Count of Villa Mediana who also looks out towards the viewer. Alessandro Robido, Senator of Milan, is seated in front of him and looks directly across the table towards Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire. Next is Charles de Ligne, Count of Aremberg, looking out towards the viewer and then Jean Richardot, President of the Privy Council, who looks forwards and rests his right hand on the table clasping a paper. In the front is Louis Verekyn, Audiencer of Brussels and Principal Secretary, who looks towards the viewer, with his right hand resting on the arm of his chair. A pewter ink-pot, quill and a piece of paper lie on the table before Sir Robert Cecil.
The painting is signed on the right 'Juan Pantoxa de l X', but not dated.

Object Details

ID: BHC2787
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Cruz, Pantoja de la; Cruz, Juan Pantoja de la
Places: Somerset House
Events: Somerset House Conference, 1604
Date made: circa 1604
People: Aremberg, Charles de Ligne, Count of; Blount, Charles Howard, Charles Cecil, Robert 1st Earl of Northampton and Effingham, Henry Howard Richardot, Jean Rovidius, Alexander Sackville, Thomas Tassis, Juan Baptista de: Villamediana, Count of Velasco, Juan de Verreycken, Louis
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Painting: 2055 mm x 2770 mm; Frame: 2445 mm x 3075 mm x 120 mm

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