This monumental painting presents the family history and accomplishments of Lady Anne Clifford using a combination of portraiture, text and symbolism.
The left side panel of the triptych depicts Lady Anne Clifford at the age of fifteen, when she was disinherited. Portraits of Lady Anne’s governess, Mrs. Anne Taylor, and her tutor, the poet Samuel Daniel, are placed above the shelves of books, which include titles by Ovid, Chaucer, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. These elements of the composition highlight Lady Anne’s education and refined upbringing.
The right side panel shows Lady Anne in late middle age, when she finally regained the Clifford estates. Portraits of Lady Anne’s two husbands hang behind her: Richard Sackville, third Earl of Dorset, who died in 1624, and Philip Herbert, fourth Earl of Pembroke and first Earl of Montgomery, who died in 1650. The depiction of Lady Anne at fifty-six was used as the model for many subsequent portraits and is probably the only likeness in The Great Picture to have been painted from life.
The central panel depicts Lady Anne’s parents, Margaret Russell and George Clifford, third Earl of Cumberland, with her older brothers who did not survive to adulthood: Francis (1584-1589) and Robert (1585-1591). On the walls behind the family group hang portraits of Lady Anne’s four aunts. As Lady Anne was not born until 1590, she does not appear in the central panel as such, but Lady Margaret’s gesture hints that the daughter who would ultimately become the Clifford heir had already been conceived at the time of the original painting.
The triptych is a composite work by a skilled copyist working from miniatures, portraits and whatever gowns and armour were still in Lady Anne’s possession. The piece has been attributed to Jan van Belcamp (1610-1653), a Dutch artist active in England who was a specialist in this genre.