Some time in the 1650s, an unknown engraver executed a double portrait of Oliver Cromwell and his wife, Elizabeth [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. The couple face the viewer while holding a symbolic laurel wreath of victory. However, Oliver is not dressed in military attire, but simply if elegantly with a mantle over a simple shirt with plain collar and cuffs. Elizabeth is dressed in the fashion of the day, with a pearl necklace, pendant, and earrings and a dress with a low rounded neckline, short-waisted bodice, and loose elbow sleeves. In the background are elegant folds of drapery and a classical pillar.
What any student of art history recognizes, of course, is that this engraving is based on earlier paintings, not of Oliver Cromwell, but of Charles I. The composition of the dual figures with the laurel wreath was first executed c. 1630-32 by Daniel Mytens [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED] and later by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, shown here in a 1634 engraving [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED].(1) In both the Mytens and the Van Dyck on the same theme, the king and queen are shown half-length, holding symbolic tokens. Such portraits have been widely viewed as epitomizing cavalier culture, the grace and elegance of the Caroline court, and the majesty of divine right monarchy.
What then can be said of the Cromwellian imitation? Although this engraving has not, to my knowledge, been reproduced by modern scholars, similar examples have been used to dismiss Cromwellian portraiture as an inept aping of monarchical forms.(2) An influential early account by Margaret Whinney and Oliver Millar characterized Robert Walker, an early painter of Cromwell, as showing "the most slavish dependence on Van Dyck by an English painter";(3) according to the authors, Walker was original only in what was wrong with his paintings - his "dry and impersonal use of paint and his lack of any feeling for colour" and his "limp lay-figures against pedestrian backgrounds."(4) Later art historians have echoed this sentiment, viewing the portraiture as wholly derivitive of monarchical forms.(5) Although David Piper's seminal 1958 study looked at the "face itself of Cromwell, warts and all,"(6) Piper's more extended concern was with "the chase of the crown after Cromwell,"(7) ending with the apparent merging of protectoral and monarchical iconography. Since the publication of Piper's study forty years ago, Cromwellian portraiture has been almost entirely neglected by art historians, historians, and literary critics alike.(8)
Yet given the fuller range of Cromwellian portraits and engravings now available, and the extensive work that has been done on monarchical portraiture and representation more broadly, the dismissal of Cromwellian portraiture calls for reevaluation.(9) I shall argue that the differences between Cromwellian images and those of the monarchy are less inept and more purposeful than has hitherto been recognized. Rather than simply mimicking monarchical forms, Cromwellian portraiture increasingly reflected the character - and contradictions - of Cromwell's own plain style. Art and politics intermingled: appropriating and revising monarchical and, in particular, Caroline iconography, Cromwellian portraiture developed a plain-style aesthetic that reflected a new mode of piety and power.
Closer comparison of the Caroline double portraits and the Cromwellian engraving reveals not only blatant borrowing, but important revision. The clothing of the portraits is especially significant.(10) Charles and Henrietta dress in accordance with the wealth and status of the monarchy. Mytens's Charles is fashionably attired in a highly ornate doublet with wings and false hanging sleeves. The breast of the doublet is decoratively slashed to match the doublet sleeves. Charles wears a standing-falling ruff and his lesser George medallion. His long hair, brushed up moustache, and pointed beard also set the standard for fashion. Henrietta Maria (a figure over-painted on Mytens's original and modeled after a Van Dyck portrait) is similarly elegant and ornate.(11) She wears a pearl necklace and earrings, and her hair is stylishly dressed in side ringlets with ribbon ornaments at the back. Her dress has a finely-executed lace collar, large puff sleeves, a laced bodice, and a high-waisted skirt.
Van Dyck's double portrait, painted shortly after Mytens's and replacing the Mytens portrait in Somerset House, enhances the splendor of majesty. His figures are less stiffly posed, and the play of light and shadow is more effective. Charles wears a very wide, lace-fringed collar rather than the ruff, but he retains the lace cuffs; he again wears slashed sleeves and doublet, and the lesser George medallion on a broad ribbon. Mytens's blank background is replaced by a landscape with clouds framed between billowing curtains. Van Dyck makes the symbolic exchange more clear. The queen, as the daughter of the warrior-king Henri IV of France, hands her husband a laurel wreath, while he, in return, presents her with an olive branch representing the peace-making of his own father, James. Hence the symbolism of the portrait emphasizes royal lineage and presents the private union of Charles and Henrietta Maria as benefitting the entire realm, which is symbolized by the landscape behind them. Van Dyck also inserts the timeless symbols of kingly office, placing the royal regalia on a table behind the king.
Van Dyck's paintings have been seen as epitomizing the grace and majesty of the Caroline court - not only divine right rule, but the ideals of peace and harmony that lay behind this philosophy of government. Arthur Wheelock observes that in this portrait of Charles and Henrietta, their "transformation from mere mortals to romantics heroes . . . was immediate and complete."(12) Indeed, Graham Parry writes that "the gleaming regalia on a table behind Charles seem almost superfluous, such is the feeling of majesty and grace that pervades the whole painting."(13)
While drawing upon the cultural capital of Caroline portraiture, the engraving of the Cromwells largely eschews the trappings of power. The clothing and manner, especially of Oliver, show a seriousness of purpose and lack of frivolity that point to a new aesthetic: a reformed and plain style. The laurel of victory - representing Oliver's martial conquests - is the one symbolic element that remains. But this is a private, domestic portrait; the landscape is gone and symbols of office or even authority disappear.
The attire of Oliver and Elizabeth reflects both their gentry class and their "godly" religion. Elizabeth is, to some extent, a la mode. She wears her hair pulled back from the forehead and temples, with back hair coiled into a high bun and cork-screw curls falling to the shoulders - very much the fashion between 1645 and 1660. Elizabeth's short-waisted dress, with its full puffy sleeves worn well above the wrist and low-cut, rounded bodice, was also in vogue. Yet the dress has no lace edging on the sleeves or neckline, nor embroidery, ruff, or collar. She does not wear a caul or round cap, often seen trimmed with silver, gold, jewels, or lace over the twisted bun in other portraits of this period. And Elizabeth's face, interestingly enough, seems to be an almost identical mirror-image of Oliver's. Elizabeth's features are heavy and her figure shows considerably more bulk than that of the queen.
Oliver's attire is more severe than Elizabeth's, although still reflecting the gentry class. He wears a mantle over a doublet, beneath which is a shirt with a plain collar and cuffs. The figures are, of course, reversed from the Caroline portraits. As in the Van Dyck painting, both of Elizabeth's arms are visible. The hands are Van Dyck hands: elongated, elegant, slender. Yet no symbols of office or even authority remain.
The engraving of the Cromwells clearly draws upon monarchical portraiture. But it appropriates and changes rather than simply duplicates the Caroline mode. This engraving is one example of what I am terming the Cromwellian "plain style," a new aesthetic that was neither revolutionary nor conservative, but a combination of both, in art as in politics. And, as we shall now see, the plain style was firmly grounded in Cromwell's own beliefs - his mode of speech, dress, and action.
"I SHALL DEAL PLAINLY": CROMWELL'S OWN STYLE
Cromwell was typically "puritan" in his focus on plainness - that is, simplicity and honesty - of not only speech, but dress and behavior.(14) His early advocacy of "plain men" in the parliamentary army seemed to some of his contemporaries to threaten traditional class hierarchies. Early in the first civil war (August 1643), Cromwell urged a Suffolk committee to recruit "godly honest men to be captains of horse," commenting that "I had rather have a plain russet-coated captain that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a gentleman and is nothing else. I honour a gentleman that is so indeed."(15) Later, he wrote again on the same subject: "Gentlemen, it may be it provokes some spirits to see such plain men made captains of horse. It had been well that men of honour and birth had entered into these employments, but why do they not appear? Who would have hindered them? But seeing it was necessary the work must go on, better plain men than none, but best to have men patient of wants, faithful and conscientious in the employment, and such, I hope, these will approve themselves to be."(16)
But most often Cromwell's use of "plain" was less concerned with class than with religion, and therefore more or less synonymous with honest or godly. In his private family letters, Cromwell recurrently commended plainness as a manner of speech. For example, in April 1650, he wrote to his son Richard: "I take your letters kindly: I like expressions when they come plainly from the heart, and are not strained nor affected."(17) In September 1650, Cromwell added a postscript to a letter to Richard's father-in-law, Richard Mayor, asking him to "tell Doll I do not forget her nor her little brat. She writes very cunningly and complimentally to me; I expect a letter of plain dealing from her."(18) Similarly, in April 1656 he entreated his son Henry in Ireland to "cry to the Lord to give you a plain single heart."(19)
Cromwell's speeches to his protectoral parliaments, with their biblical metaphors, repetition, and heightened sense of humility and piety, also exemplified the plain style. Under pressure, Cromwell …