Category Archives: Art


Ayuba Suleiman Diallo

Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, also known as Job ben Solomon,
by William Hoare of Bath, 1733 © Christie’s Images Limited

Yesterday I spotted a news item from the National Portrait Gallery. The above portrait, of Ayuba Diallo, the earliest known British painting of a black African Muslim and freed slave, is due to be exported overseas unless sufficient funds can be raised to keep it in Britain.

Ayuba Diallo (1701-1773), (also known as Job ben Solomon) came from an educated family of west African Muslims, and was taken into slavery and sent to work on a plantation in America. The following is a contemporaneous account of what happened:

In February, 1730, JOB’s Father hearing of an English Ship at Gambia River, sent him, with two Servants to attend him, to sell two Negroes and to buy Paper, and some other Necessaries; but desired him not to venture over the River, because the Country of the Mandingoes, who are Enemies to the People of Futa, lies on the other side. JOB not agreeing with Captain Pike (who commanded the Ship, lying then at Gambia, in the Service of Captain Henry Hunt, Brother to Mr. William Hunt, Merchant, in Little Tower-Street, London) sent back the two Servants to acquaint his Father with it, and to let him know that he intended to go farther. Accordingly, having agreed with another Man, named Loumein Yoas, who understood the Mandingoe Language, to go with him as his Interpreter, he crossed the River Gambia, and disposed of his Negroes for some Cows. As he was returning Home, he stopp’d for some Refreshment at the House of an old Acquaintance; and the Weather being hot, he hung up his Arms in the House, while he refresh’d himself.  Those Arms were very valuable; consisting of a Gold-hilted Sword, a Gold Knife, which they wear by their Side, and a rich Quiver of Arrows, which King Sambo had made him a Present of.  It happened that a Company of the Mandingoes, who live upon Plunder, passing by at that Time, and observing him unarmed, rush’d in, to the Number of seven or eight at once, at a back Door, and pinioned JOB, before he could get to his Arms, together with his Interpreter, who is a Slave in Maryland still.

They then shaved their Heads and Beards, which JOB and his Man resented as the highest Indignity; tho’ the Mandingoes meant no more by it, than to make them appear like Slaves taken in War. On the 27th of February, 1730, they carried them to Captain Pike at Gambia, who purchased them; and on the first of March they were put on Board. Soon after JOB found means to acquaint Captain Pike that he was the same Person that came to trade with him a few Days before, and after what Manner he had been taken. Upon this Captain Pike gave him leave to redeem himself and his Man; and JOB sent to an Acquaintance of his Father’s, near Gambia, who promised to send to JOB’s Father, to inform him of what had happened, that he might take some Course to have him set at Liberty.  But it being a Fortnight’s journey between that Friend’s House and his Father’s, and the Ship failing in about a Week after, JOB was brought with the rest of the Slaves to Annapolis in Maryland.

Ayuba was initially put to work in the tobacco fields of Maryland, but he eventually escaped, and was captured and sent to the Kent County courthouse.  A chance encounter with a lawyer changed his fortunes, and in 1733 he travelled to England, where he was freed from slavery, and spent time among many prominent people, including the Royal family.  He eventually returned home and his memoirs were published in English.

An important figure in the history of the slave trade, and a major contributor to England’s understanding of African culture and identity, Ayuba rightly deserves his place in the National Portrait Gallery.

The gallery needs to raise £554,000 to save his portrait.  A substantial part of the money has already been secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Art Fund, but the NPG still needs to raise at least £100,000. Please consider donating whatever you can to help preserve this important artwork.


© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved


The Arte of Drawing

These fragments come from a 17th century book entitled The Arte of Drawing, designed ‘for the behoofe of all young Gentlemen or any else that are desirious for to become practitioners in this Excellent and most Ingenious Art.’  As well as providing a fascinating insight into approaches to art at this time, the book also details some of the more common art materials in use.

‘I am not ignorant of sundry ways that have beene devised to teach draught, as namely by crossing the pattern, then your owne paper with equall spaces, filling the same as you finde in your example: also drawing upon a lanterne horne, with a paper blackt with a torch, and such, like.  Neither do I mislike any such convenient help to a young learners furtherance. You must first get you black lead sharpned finelie, and put fast into quills, for your rude and first draught, some ten or twelve.  Moreover you must not be without as many Sallow coales, sharpned at the ends.  You shall choose them thus, they are more blue and finer grained than the other coales, smooth (being broken). You shall sharpen them upon one of your fingers, as also your black lead; otherwise they will quickly breake and point sharp.

Get you also a small paire of brazen compasses and Brasill rule, for taking the distance, if you followe a printe; and bee not without the crums of fine manchet or whitebreade, to rubbe out your lead or coal, when you have done amisse, or finished your worke.  Scriveners & Schoolemasters in the Country that teach to write have divers small pensills of broome, with which they shadowe greate letters in copy bookes very prettily.  They are made in this manner, take a broome stalk about the bigness of a spoone handle, and cut it even at the end, when when you have done, chewe it betweene your teeth till it be fine and grow at the end like a pensill, but I care not how little you use them, because your pen shall doe better & shew more art.

For your drawing pennes, never be without twenty or thirty at a time, made of Ravens and goose quills; your Ravens quills are the best of all other, to write faire, or shadow fine, your goose quills serve for the bigger or ruder lines. Having these in a readiness, you shall practise for the space of a week or there abouts, to draw Circles, Squares of all sorts, a Cylinder, the ovall forme, with other such like solid and plaine Geometricall figures, till you can doe them indifferent well, using the helpe of your rule and Compasse: the reason of exercising you first in these is, when as Symmetry or proportion is the very soule of picture, it is impossible that you should be ready in the bodies, before you can draw their abstract and generall sortes. For example, your Circle will teache you, to draw even & truly all sphericall bodies which are of like parts and formes, as the Sun, Moone, Stars, &c.

The square will make you ready for all manner of compartments, bases, perystiles, plots, buildings, &c. Your Cylinder for vaulted turrets and round buildings; your Orthogonium and Pyramids, for sharp steeples, turrets and all things; your Ovall forme will help you in drawing the face, a shield, or such like: so that you may reduce many thousand bodies to these few generall figures, as unto their principall heads and fountaines.

After you are cunning in these figures (beginning with the Circle) imitate some thing of Circular forme, what you shall think good, in which as in all the other aforenamed proportions you shall worke and help your selfe by the Diameter (which is a strait line, drawn long ways just in the midst of your circle or square) and which will guide you marveilously in your work.

Since man is the worthiest of all creatures, and such pleasing variety in countenances, so disposed of by the divine prouidence, that among ten thousand you shall not see one like another, you shall begin to draw a mans face, in which as in all other creatures you must take your beginning at the forehead, and so draw downward till you have finished.  The visage or countenance is (for the most part)  drawn but three manner of ways, the first is full faced, as commonly we see King Henry the 8 drawne. The second is 3 quarter faced, as our Flanders and ordinarie pictures are. The third is onlie halfe faced, as you see the pictures of Philip and Mary uvpon a twelve pence.

For draught of a full face you must beare in memory and narrowlie observe the breadth of the fore head, and the compasse of both the cheekes, all which are composed of two lines. And be carefull to give as precise an evenesse to one side as to the other; causing both your lines to meete at the tip of the chin: your diameter guideth you for the even placing (as I said) of nose & mouth, your other line for the just opposition of the eyes between which in distance for the nose, always leave the space of an eye.  The end of the nose in ordinary proportion must be brought no lower then the middle of the cheek,  from whence to the chin is for the most part as far, as from thence upward to the eye browes.

An eye is commonly drawn in this manner.

To make an angry or sterne countenance let your brow bend so, that it may almost seeme to touch the ball of the eye; at what time you must also give the forehead a fine wrinckle or two, and withall the upper part of the nose betweene the eyes. A great conceipt is required in making the eye which either by the dullnes or lively quicknes thereof giveth a great taste of the spirit & disposition of the mind, as in drawing a foole or idot, by making his eyes narrow, and his temples wrinkled with laughter, wide mouthed, or shewing his teeth &c.’

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Art Shakespeare

The Faces of Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s image is universally recognised, but there remains heated debate among scholars about which extant portraits of Shakespeare genuinely depict the man himself.  The famous Flower Portrait above, for example, was recently exposed as a fraud, and was in fact painted 200 years after his death.  Given the authorship debates restimulated by James Shapiro, questions about Shakespeare’s authenticity currently abound, and because so much of our enjoyment of Shakespeare seems inextricably bound in his pictorial representations, I thought it might be interesting to explore some of the most famous portraits of Shakespeare.  I’ve provided a few snippets about the provenance of each one.  Please feel free to comment on which portrait you prefer and why – is there one representation which seems more authentic and genuine than the others?

The portrait above comes from the title page of the First Folio, Shakespeare’s collected plays published for the first time in 1623.  The copper engraving is signed by Martin Droeshout, a young Flemish engraver living in London as a Protestant refugee.  The editors of the First Folio, Henry Condell and John Hemminge, knew Shakespeare personally, so it is likely this portrait is a reasonably accurate depiction of the playwright.

Of the Cobbe Portrait above, four surviving versions date to approximately 1610, and the painting has long been associated with Shakespeare.  However the sitter is clearly someone of extreme wealth, and while Shakespeare was a man of considerable means, he was not of aristocratic birth, and such costly clothes are unlikely to have been worn by him outside the theatre.  Despite this, the sitter does bear some striking similarities with the image of Shakespeare engraved by Droeshout.

The so-called Sanders Portrait above has been dated to 1603, and it attributed to John Sanders. It has been linked to Shakespeare through rumour and association, and is damaged in places.

The Grafton Portrait above has been dated to the late sixteenth century, which means the date on the painting itself, 1588, is not in dispute.  The sitter is of the right age for Shakespeare, when, in 1588, he was just 24.  If this is indeed Shakespeare, it was painted while he was still living in Stratford-Upon-Avon, shortly before the birth of his children.

The painting above, known as The Chess Players, is attributed to Karel Van Mander.  Early in the 20th century the sitters were identified as Ben Jonson and Shakespeare, however most scholars have sinced dismissed these claims.

The above painting, known as the Chandos Portrait, dates to 1610 and is currently in the National Portrait Gallery. Regarded as authentic, it is believed by many to represent the true likeness of William Shakespeare.  In the late 17th Century it was owned by the actor Thomas Betterton, who belonged to William Davenant’s theatre company.  Davenant was governor of the acting company which suceeded Shakespeare’s King’s Men only 20 years after Shakespeare’s death.

The above Soest Potrait dates from c.1650-60.  It is not Shakespeare, but believed to be a contemporaneous actor said to resemble him.  This portrait was used to celebrate the the restoration and the subsequent reopening of the playhouses.

Above is Shakespeare’s funeral monument in Holy Trinity church, Stratford-Upon-Avon.  Installed after his death, it is, along with the Droeshout engraving from the First Folio, the only officially accepted face of Shakespeare.  Created by Gerard Johnson, it pre-dates the First Folio of 1623, since it is referenced in the Folio as ‘thy Stratford Moniment’.  The poem beneath it reads in English:
Stay, passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Read, if thou canst, whom envious Death hath placed
Within this monument: Shakespeare, with whom
Quick nature died, whose name doth deck this tomb
Far more than cost, sith all that he hath writ
Leaves living art, but page, to serve his wit.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Art Renaissance

Matthias Grünewald

These fragments come from Matthias Grünewald, c.1475-1528

The Mocking of Christ


The Temptation of St Anthony


The Crucifiction




Isenheim Alterpiece


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