This is a double portrait that shows a ¾-length view of Sir Thomas Mansel of Margam - a member of one of the wealthiest families in south Wales at the time.
The Mansel family of Oxwich became wealthy by investing in monastic lands following Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries. Sir Thomas was the MP for Glamorgan. He inherited the family house in 1595, which had been built on the site of Margam Abbey, near Neath.
During the first two decades of the 17th century, this generation of the family commissioned several portraits in the formal heraldic style, such as this. The purpose of this type of portrait was not to show the personality of the sitter but to publicly display the social status and wealth of the family.
Thomas Mansel - explore the painting
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Double portraits were common during this time, but they were usually made to commemorate the expansion of a family’s wealth, status and power through marriage – not as a celebration of love. It is unusual to see an affectionate gesture such as holding hands portrayed.
Sir Thomas Mansel is portrayed as confident and distinguished. By this time he was one of the richest and most influential people in south Wales. Not only had he acted as MP and Sheriff of Glamorgan on several occasions, he had been knighted, and in 1611 became one of the first ever to be given the title Baronet
Sir Thomas wears a white doublet with delicate lace collars and cuff, and a dark tunic intricately embroidered with gold. These were not his everyday clothes, but would have been chosen especially for the portrait, to demonstrate his wealth and taste
Beards were considered a sign of virility, and were important fashion statements for men. Thomas Mansel wears his long and squared.
When Jane Pole married Sir Thomas Mansel, she became connected to one of the most powerful families in south Wales. This, however, wasn’t her first time – she had married twice before! Multiple marriages were not unusual in the 17th century. Life expectancy was low, and many unions were short-lived.
Lady Jane wears a dark dress embroidered with gold and an elaborate lace collar and headdress, offset by a lavish triple-string of pearls. This was an age when new fashions and luxury materials like lace were being imported from abroad. Her costume was not of the latest fashion, and suggests the taste of an older generation.
Lady Jane holds a marigold, also called Mary’s Gold. This may be a reference to their daughter Mary, who appears with her parents in another, almost identical portrait. Marigolds were often used to symbolise grief and comfort, so it may also refer to the death of Jane’s second husband.
- 17 October 2012
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