Portrait Semiotic Anaylsis


Figure 9: this is a self-portrait of Sir Nathaniel Bacon, in his study with an atlas open c1618-20

Looking at this image, painted by Sir Nathaniel Bacon himself, you can denotate a few things. The way he is positioned and sprawled out on the chair allows him to show off his clothing. It’s in black, yellow and gold which makes him look wealthy. In addition, he has some fur on, what looks like, a hat next to him which is another wealth symbol. The fact that he is holding a page from the atlas, which is a map of Europe, shows that he could be well travelled or that Europe maybe the next destination of his etc. the atlas is sat on another pile of books which could suggest his knowledge and that he can read and is educated. The dog at under the table suggests that he is a country man, and he might hunt. The dog is looking up to him, as if Nathaniel is a greater power, as his master.

All these features are classic of fashion between 1610 and 1620. Distortion was popular, and emphasising specific areas was common. It’s likely that in this image there is emphasis on his hips. This is hard to see as he’s sat. you can see on this jacket that it is narrowing at the waist and the embroidery shadows this. (Cummings, 1984) this is called a Basque. Based on images seen in books and some featured further down (all referenced) the way Nathaniel Bacon is dressed would suggest that he is a man of wealth as his outfit is heavily embroidered in gold. (Ruby 1988).


Figure 10: (ashelford 1996) Richard Sackville, 3rd earl of Dorset, painted by William Larkin 1613

This image looks like an exaggerate version of what Nathaniel is wearing. The gold embroidery feature on both images. This may suggest that Nathaniel is inspired by the wealthy look of the earl. Hair and facial hair are similar on both images, with short hair brushed onto the shoulders and well-groomed facial hair. (Cumming 1984) in addition both images have the tie just below the knee.
Below is another image of Richard Sackville, this time taken in 1616. In this image, he is less extravagantly dressed. Yet many of the features are like Nathaniel’s painting. The collar is very similar. Collars in the 17th century declined and were replaced by soft collars which draped over the shoulders by 1625. (The Fashion Historian, n.d.) They became less structured and softer throughout the 1610’s, and less and less were structured with wires. The shallower the collar, reduces the emphasis on the upper body. (Cummings 1984)


Figure 11: L. Johnston & L. Woolley: miniature of Richard Sackville 3rd Earl of Dorset, Isaac Oliver 1616

All images you can see feature a low heeled or dress shoe. This was a dominant feature of shoes during the 17th century. They were the first shoes to have an arched sole and a heel with a square base made of wood or leather. They started off low but developed to grow by 2-3 inches. In addition, shoes were made as straights, meaning that they didn’t have differentiated left and right shoes. Richard Sackville’s shoes seen above had the fashionable heel, decorated with a large gold rose to compliment his outfit. From 1610 court rose became extremely popular and fashionable yet could be very expensive. In comparison with Sir Nathaniel Bacon, his shoes aren’t as elaborate as ones of the Earl, yet that said they are very similar in design with large side openings and the contemporary heel. There is also some additional detailing on the top of the shoes. (Johnston and Woolley, 2015)
Overall all this evidence suggests that in fact Nathaniel must have been a well-off middle/high class gentleman with good fashion sense and had been well educated. A lot of the featured in the beginning of the 17th century is classic of the styles he is wearing and like the style of the 3rd Earl of Dorset, Richard Sackville.


Johnston, L. and Woolley, L. (2015). Shoes. 1st ed. London: V & A Publishing, pp.21-24.

Cumming, V. (1984). A visual history of costume. 1st ed. London: Batsford.

Ashelford, J. and Von Einsiedel, A. (1996). The art of dress. 1st ed. London: National Trust.

Ruby, J. (1988). The Stuarts. 1st ed. Batsford, pp.5-13.

The Fashion Historian. (n.d.). The Fashion Historian: Ruffs. [online] Available at: http://www.thefashionhistorian.com/2011/11/ruffs.html [Accessed 1 Apr. 2017].

Figure 9 Art Prints on Demand, (2017). Self Portrait – Sir Nathaniel Bacon. [image] Available at: http://www.art-prints-on-demand.com/a/bacon-sir-nathaniel/selfportrait-5.html [Accessed 26 Mar. 2017].

Figure 10 Ashelford, J. and Von Einsiedel, A. (1996). The art of dress. [Image} 1st ed. London: National Trust.

Figure 11 Johnston, L. and Woolley, L. (2015). Shoes. [image] 1st ed. London: V & A Publishing, pp.22.



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