Agecroft Hall: Discover 17th Century England in Richmond
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Portrait of Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Countess of Lincoln, 1560 (AH1977.0025)

Steven van der Muelen

   The portrait of Elizabeth Fitzgerald (1528?-1589) was painted in 1560 by Antwerp artist Steven van der Muelen (active 1543-1568). Van der Muelen trained under William van Cleve and was admitted to the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1552. He lived and worked in London from 1560 onward and he was chosen to paint a portrait of Elizabeth I.  He was a favorite painter of John, Lord Lumley, one of the first antique collectors in England, who helped to found the first structured group of antiquarians there. 

   Elizabeth Fitzgerald-called "Fair Geraldine"-was born at Maynooth Castle to the Earl of Kildare and she was long considered the most beautiful woman of her time. A cousin to Henry VIII through her mother, Fitzgerald, at 10 years old, was brought to live in the house of Princess Mary. She then transferred into the service of Queen Catherine Howard. According to Agecroft records, Fitzgerald would have been acquainted with the father of William Dauntesey as he was in service to the Queen at the same time as she.  Later in her life, Fitzgerald became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I.

   As she was exceedingly beautiful, Elizabeth Fitzgerald became an obsession of the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. He wrote sentimental songs and sonnets about her, especially his sonnet "Description and Praise of His Love Geraldine." The Earl of Surrey first met Elizabeth when she was nine years old.

   Fitzgerald's first marriage, which included a ceremony attended by Henry the VIII himself, was to Sir Anthony Browne (1488-1548). She was 15 and he was 60; she was a widow by 1548, at the age of 20. Around 1552, she remarried to Edward Fiennes de Clinton, Earl of Lincoln, and she became the Countess of Lincoln. Their marriage lasted for 33 years, until his death in 1585. Elizabeth died in March of 1589 and she was buried in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, next to her second husband.

   The subject of our portrait was 32 at the time this portrait was painted. Considered the most beautiful woman of her time, she is wearing a red French hood decorated with gold and gray pearls, neck and wrist cuffs embellished in gold, and fur edging her gown. Aglets dot her sleeves and the front of her gown. She clutches a pair of gloves with gold embroidered cuffs. She is wearing six gold rings and a gold and pearl pendant tied around her waist. 

    Including her clothes, other features of English Renaissance fashion can be found in this portrait.  The hair along her hairline has been plucked, probably about an inch, to create the extremely fashionable high forehead of the time--a sign of aristocracy and intelligence. Her pale face, another fashion trend, was achieved through use of a (toxic) lead-based powder. After whitening, ochre was used to create a blush and lips were lined with more lead-based powder. An egg wash was was applied to the entire face to preserve the make-up. Different ointments, created using oils, milk, lard, honey, herbs, and bee's wax create the pale complexion of her hands. (1)

 

Resources:

  • Agecroft Hall records
  • Hunt, Kenneth A., Jennifer Fate, and Bill Dodds. "Cultural and Social Influences on the Perception of Beauty: a Case Analysis of the Cosmetics Industry," Journal of Business Case Studies. Vol. 7, No. 1, 2011. 

Research compiled by Josh Kline, Assistant Curator