Johnson, Cornelius

   Leading portraitist of the Baroque era in England. Cornelius Johnson was the son of Dutch immigrants who settled in London, and worked for kings James I and Charles I, as well as members of the court. His popularity waned after Anthony van Dyck arrived in England in 1632. When civil war broke out in 1643, Johnson moved to Holland where he remained for the rest of his life. Johnson's portraits are closely tied to Dutch portraiture. His figures are usually placed in front of dark, undefined backgrounds with focus on their faces and elaborate costumes that denote their social standing. His portrait Sir Thomas Hanmer (1631; Wales, National Museum) depicts a member of King Charles' court who retired from politics after the civil war to devote himself to gardening, becoming one of the most distinguished horticulturists of his era. Here, he is depicted at the age of 19 when he served Charles as page and cupbearer, wearing an aristocratic black silk costume with lace collar and gazing out at the viewer without expression. Johnson's portrait Baron Thomas Coventry (1639; London, National Portrait Gallery), which depicts a prominent lawyer, politician, and judge, shows the sitter with the signs of his parliamentary office: the bag, great seal, and mace. A comparison of these two works demonstrates the impact of van Dyck's art on Johnson's style as the later portrait presents a softening of forms, particularly in the details of the drapery, and greater accuracy of proportions than the earlier example.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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