Edward Norgate was a gentleman employed in the service of the early Stuart kings. Emerging from an academic background (his father was vice-chancellor of Cambridge), he evinced strong artistic talents, especially for music and painting. As a court musician of James I he was also engaged in the illumination of official royal documents, and under Charles I he served as one of the Clerks of the Signet, charged with preparing the king’s ceremonial correspondence, with its traditional blending of calligraphy and pictorial decoration. Like his brother-in-law Nicholas Lanier, another musician and painter, he also became a connoisseur of the visual arts, and so was similarly involved in the progressive cultural ambience of the Caroline court. Journeys abroad on royal service typically involved contacts with continental artists, including Rubens and Van Dyck; and when the latter arrived in London in 1632, King Charles arranged a temporary lodging for him in Norgate’s house.
Norgate’s treatise Miniatura or The Art of Limning reflects both the more traditional and the more advanced aspects of his interest in ‘picture’, as practitioner and connoisseur. His preeminence as an illuminator of royal documents and his more average capacity for the technically germane medium of the portrait miniature, both subsumed under the term ‘limning’, prompted him to write a detailed account of the technical processes involved, divulging and systematising a body of customary, well-tried practices. At the same time his enthusiasm for modern European art made him argue that ‘limning’ should progress beyond its typically English focus on portraiture, and assimilate new genres from the continent, such as landscape and history painting. The implausibility of the argument paradoxically makes this section of the treatise more, rather than less, interesting, as emphasis shifts away from practice towards the theoretical aspects of these still un-Englished genres.
This new edition of Miniatura by Jeffrey Muller and the late Jim Murrell appropriately places the treatise in its two complementary contexts, attending both to Norgate the connoisseur of recent European painting and Norgate the exponent of limning techniques. Each editor brings a distinct expertise to the work, and their collaboration produces impressive results. Going beyond Martin Hardie’s useful but imperfect edition of 1919, they navigate their way through the various manuscript copies and (unauthorised) printed redactions of the treatise, and are able to date its earlier and later versions to 1627/8 and 1648 respectively. Substantive textual variants are tracked and usefully quoted in two appendices. The introduction is compact but far-reaching in scope; and the annotation, stretching to over a hundred pages, gives the work enormous added value.
For the student of Netherlandish art, and especially its reception in early Stuart England, Norgate’s interest is twofold. He records his meetings, and familiar intercourse, with a number of northern painters, including Goltzius, Paul Bril, and Rubens, and suggests how these encounters helped to form the ‘observations’, both practical and doctrinal, which went into the writing of his treatise. On a more general front, he emerges as an advocate for the new Netherlandish genre of landscape, which he discusses in detail and recommends to English limners. The models he cites range from Coninxloo, Bril and Joos de Momper to the later Rubens and Breenbergh. But there is more to this advocacy than meets the eye. In the second and fuller version of the text, written in the troubled 1640s, he adds an apologia for landscape as “of all kinds of painting the most innocent, and which the Devil himself could never accuse of or infect with idolatry.” Advanced artistic taste assumes an overtly political character, as Norgate defends visual art, associated with the Caroline regime, against militant Puritan iconoclasm. Netherlandish landscape becomes a symbolic participant in the culture wars of revolutionary England.
University of Southampton