I’ve always found paintings fascinating and inspirational, wanting to know the stories behind the faces and to understand the symbolism. Recently my curiosity took me to a fine art dealer’s studio in London where I had a wonderful time deciphering the tale behind a picture that has always intrigued me.
The painting, known as The Triple Dobson Portrait, hangs at Ashdown House. It dates from the period of the English Civil War. The names of the sitters, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, his brother Prince Maurice and the Duke of Richmond are helpfully painted onto it. It definitely has a story to tell. Prince Rupert’s scarlet cloak lies discarded over a chair; his faithful dog looks on, and in his hand is a document of some description. One of his companions is dipping a cockade into a glass of red wine. The royal colours and those of Prince Rupert, the grey and the black, are swathed around the pillar and on the cockade.
The Ashdown picture is unfinished. There is no glass for the wine and a lot of the details of the clothing in particular have not been completed. That is one of the mysteries about the painting: Why was it never finished?
In London I saw a finished version of the same picture hanging on the wall in the fine art studio.The
The painting tells the story of a moment in time. After Rupert had given up Bristol to the Parliamentarians he quarrelled badly with his uncle Charles I who thought he had relinquished the city too easily. Rupert was court-martialled, and though he was cleared, unpleasant rumours hung over his loyalty and that of his troops.
The portrait is a refutation of those claims. The scroll in Rupert’s hand is the ruling of the court martial, clearing him of all accusations. The combination of his own colours and those of the King underline his loyalty, as does the glass of wine, which is to be raised in a loyal toast, and of course there is the dog – the ultimate symbol of steadfastness.
So if this portrait had been painted for John Russell, who had commissioned our copy? My expert pointed out to me something that should have been obvious but that I hadn’t appreciated before, that since a triple portrait featured three people there were usually three copies of it. This raised the intriguing possibility of a third version, the whereabouts currently unknown. But since we already have sufficient of a puzzle with our own version, that one will have to wait!
Here we come to the heart of our mystery. The most likely suggestion is that our portrait is the one
Until we can find proof of the painting’s history we cannot be sure. But I do love a good mystery and I feel the plot of another timeslip story shaping up!