John de Critz

John de Critz or John Decritz (1551/2 – 14 March 1642) was one of a number of painters of Flemish and Dutch origin active at the English royal court during the reigns of James I of England and Charles I of England He held the post of Serjeant Painter to the king from 1603, at first jointly with Leonard Fryer and from 1610 jointly with Robert Peake the Elder

De Critz was born in Antwerp His Flemish parents brought him as a boy to England from Antwerp, during the Habsburg persecution of Dutch Protestants, and apprenticed him to the artist and poet Lucas de Heere, also from Antwerp, who may have taught members of the Gheeraerts family and Robert Peake as well De Critz established himself as an independent artist by the late 1590s, and in 1603 he was appointed serjeant-painter to the king

De Critz’s work, traced through his bills, also entailed the restoration of decorative detail, the painting and guilding of royal coaches and barges, and individual tasks such as painting the signs and letters on a royal sun-dial He also painted “bravely” for court masques, dramatic spectaculars which required elaborate scenery and scenic effects

De Critz’s father was Troilus de Critz, a goldsmith from Antwerp John de Critz’s sister Magdalena married Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, another Flemish court painter, who may also have been a pupil of de Heere De Critz was succeeded as Serjeant Painter by his son John the Younger (b before 1599), who had been involved in the work for many years—his father died at about 90 John the Younger was killed shortly afterwards in the fighting at Oxford Other painters from the family include John the Elder’s sons Emmanuel (1608–65), who also worked for the court, and Thomas (1607–53), to whom many portraits of their Tradescant relations are now attributed Thomas also worked for the Crown between 1629 and 1637 Oliver de Critz (1626–51) was a son of John the Younger by his third wife; his portrait in the Ashmolean Museum may be a self-portrait

The post of serjeant-painter came into being with the appointment of John Browne in 1511–12, and the last known holder was James Stewart, of whom no records are available after 1782, though it is not clear whether the post was ever actually abolished In a patent issued on 7 May 1679 for Robert Streater, a list of previous serjeant-painters is given, including “John Decreetz & Robert Peake” as joint-holders of the post De Critz was given the post in 1603 but is first described as sharing the office with Leonard Fryer, who had held it since 1595 Robert Peake the Elder was appointed jointly with de Critz in 1607, or 1610 A payment made to de Critz in 1633 shows that he was paid a retainer of £40 a year For three portraitss made in 1606, of the King, Prince Henry, and Anne of Denmark, to be sent to the ambassador in Austria, de Critz was paid £53 six shillings and eight pence

he role of the serjeant painter was elastic in its definition of duties: it involved not just the painting of original portraits but of their reproductions in new versions, to be sent to other courts (King James, unlike Elizabeth, was markedly averse to sitting for his portrait) as well as copying and restoring portraits by other painters in the royal collection, and many decorative tasks, for example scene painting and the painting of banners

Horace Walpole provided information about some of the tasks de Critz performed in his Anecdotes of Painting in England, which he based closely on the notes of George Vertue, who had met acquaintances of de Critz and his family In particular, Walpole quoted from a scrap of paper, a “memorandum in his own hand”, on which de Critz wrote bills for jobs completed

John de Critz’s final bill for painting these barges and their carvings by Maximilian Colt in 1621 was over £255 Walpole also noted that de Critz painted a gilded “middle piece” for a ceiling at Oatlands Palace and repaired pictures, and he quoted a wardrobe account for work on the royal carriages: “To John De Critz, serjeant-painter, for painting and gilding with good gold the body and carriages of two coaches and the carriage of one chariot and other necessaries, 179l3s4d anno 1634” De Critz also gilded Maximilian Colt’s marble effigy for the tomb of Elizabeth I, completed in 1606, which had been painted by Nicholas Hilliard All traces of the painting and gilding have now disappeared

Walpole said of de Critz that “His life is to be collected rather from office-books than from his works or his reputation”; and the comparative mundanity of some of the tasks he undertook has led to a downplaying of the artistic role of the serjeant-painter Art historian William Gaunt describes de Critz’s role as “mainly that of a handyman”

It is not certain in precisely which part of London de Critz had his studio, but it is known that he moved to the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields before his death in 1642 He stated in his will that he had previously lived for thirty years in the parish of St Andrew, Holborn Horace Walpole notes George Vertue’s comment that there were three rooms full of the king’s pictures at de Critz’s house in Austin-friars De Critz is entered in a subsidy roll for the parish of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in 1607 and again in 1625; and since this parish adjoins St Andrew, Holborn, he possibly had his studio in St Sepulchre He died in London in 1642; the exact date is unknown

Although de Critz was a prolific painter, few of his works have been clearly identified The portrait painters of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period present peculiar difficulties in this respect, since they often made multiple versions not only of their own paintings but of those of their predecessors and contemporaries, and they rarely signed their work In addition, portraits by different artists often share poses or iconographical features Although many paintings are attributed to de Critz, therefore, full authentication is unusual

As part of the monarchy’s advancement of its political and dynastic aims, numerous copies of standard portraits were required for presentation as gifts and transmission to foreign embassies Gustav Ungerer has studied the interchanges of portraits, jewellery and other gifts during the negotiations and celebrations which surrounded the Treaty of London, a peace treaty signed with Spain in August 1604 during the conference at Somerset House, when diplomatic exchanges of miniatures and full-length portraits took place in a sustained show of brilliant self-representation In this context, Ungerer discusses the contested authorship of the famous painting of the two sets of negotiators sitting opposite each other at the conference table, The Somerset House Conference, a work in which John de Critz may have had a hand, either directly or as a source for the copying of figures

Both versions of the painting—one at the National Portrait Gallery and one at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich—are signed by the Spanish court painter Juan Pantoja de la Cruz; but scholars disagree about whether he was in fact the artist since, although the signatures appear authentic, he was never in London It is possible that either the works are by a Flemish artist, possibly Frans Pourbus, or John De Critz, or were copied by Pantoja from a Flemish artist who was in London at the time Pantoja may have worked up the likenesses of the English negotiators by “copying the faces of the delegates either from miniatures or from standard portraits given to him or to the constable in London or sent to ValladolidHe obviously used a Cecil portrait as model for The Somerset House Conference which was Cecil’s standard type of portrait attributed to John de Critz” It is certainly on record that the leader of the English negotiating team, Sir Robert Cecil, gave the leader of the Spanish negotiators, Juan Fernández de Velasco, 5th Duke of Frías and Constable of Castile, his stock portrait as duplicated in the workshop of John de Critz Pantoja’s depiction of Charles Howard, earl of Nottingham, also looks as if it has been duplicated from a standard portrait Apart from the heads, the picture shows signs of workshop painting by assistants, perhaps revealing that numerous versions were produced, as there would have been many demands from those involved for duplicates of the painting, for purposes of historical record The painting sheds light on the piecemeal process of constructing group portraits at this time

Works:
James VI and I 1606 Dulwich Picture Gallery
“John de Critz – a Flemish artist who came to London as a Huguenot refugee – became one of the most successful and influential painters in London In 1603 he became Serjeant Painter to the Crown and was responsible for the creation of the standard portrait of King James, many copies of which were then made
James I is shown wearing a padded doublet and standing on a precious turkey carpet, of the pattern named after the Venetian painter Lotto He wears two legendary royal jewels – the Great George on his chest, and The Feather, a cockade of diamonds and other precious stones, in his hat”

James I and VI 1626 Dulwich Picture Gallery
Possibly one of the set of Kings and Queens of England acquired by Edward Alleyn in 1618/20 (see British School, DPGS22-536), but not a product of the same workshop as the other sixteen Although of somewhat better quality than the other Monarchs, as befitted the King under whom Alleyn held minor court office, DPG384 remains a pedestrian derivation from the de Critz pattern

Sir Francis Walsingham 1585 Yale Center for British Art

Portrait of Anne of Denmark 1606 – 1615 Colonial Williamsburg Foundation