- Karen Hearn
Peake, Robert (c. 1551–1619), portrait and decorative painter, was born into a Lincolnshire gentry family. The son of William Peake, he was first recorded on 30 April 1565, upon his apprenticeship to the London goldsmith Laurence Woodham. If this took place at the customary age of fourteen, Peake must have been born about 1551. On 21 May 1576 he became a freeman of the London Goldsmiths' Company, which seems to indicate an unusually protracted apprenticeship, but in that and the following year he was working as a 'paynter' for the office of revels, preparing for the Elizabethan court festivities from Christmas through to Candlemas (2 February). He was paid for similar work in 1578 and 1579. From 1585/6 until about 1599 he rented a tenement in Green Dragon Court, in the Holborn Cross precinct of St Sepulchre's in the city of London.
The back of a portrait, Unknown Military Commander (1593; Yale U. CBA) is inscribed: 'M.BY.RO./PEAKE'. This work has been used as a touchstone to attribute other works to Peake, notably ones that bear a similar form of lettering to that employed for the date and sitter's age on the front of this portrait. The diverse nature of the handling of these portraits suggests, however, that more than one hand was involved. Moreover, the script in question has been found on works painted after Robert Peake's death, such as the portrait of two children, Lady Margaret and Lord John Russell, dated 1623 (priv. coll.). It is possible that these works are attributable to Peake's son William Peake (c. 1580–1639) [see under Peake, Sir Robert (c. 1605-1667)]. In 1598 Peake was among the artists working in Britain listed by Francis Meres in his book Palladis tamia. His earliest known portrait of Henry, prince of Wales (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), is dated 1603, the year in which Henry's father ascended the English throne as James I. The prince is portrayed as if on the deer-hunting field with a young companion, Sir John Harington. This image was probably originally paired with a portrait of Henry's sister, Princess Elizabeth (NMM), which bears the same date. As no payments for either portrait are recorded in the royal accounts, they may have been commissioned by Harington's father, John, first Baron Harington of Exton, who with his wife was entrusted from 1603 onwards with the full-time care and education of the princess. A similar but later portrait of the prince with the young Robert Devereux, third earl of Essex, also by Peake, is in the Royal Collection.
About 1605, as a churchwarden of St Sepulchre's, Peake was one of eighteen signatories of a petition to the earl of Salisbury (Hatfield House, Cecil Papers 197/88). Jointly with John de Critz the elder, he was appointed serjeant-painter to James I in June 1607, being paid £12 for 'sundry pictures by him made' for James's queen, Anne of Denmark, in 1606/7. Throughout this decade Peake seems to have produced a number of portraits of Prince Henry, which suggests that he acted as the prince's official portraitist. Between Easter and Michaelmas 1610, with the painter–stainer Paul Isaacson, Peake worked at Woolwich on the decoration of Henry's warship the Prince royal; his tasks included painting ‘diverse histories’ (presumably narrative pictures) in the cabins. In 1611 Peake published an English edition of Sebastiano Serlio's The Firste Booke of Architecture, which he dedicated to the prince. This had been translated from a Dutch version made after the original Italian, and the title-page stated that it was to be sold at Peake's 'shop neere Holborne conduit, next to the Sunne Taverne'. In 1612 he was paid for 'twoe great Pictures of the Prince in Armes at length sent beyond the seas' (Strong, Henry, Prince of Wales, 114), and it must have been at about this date he painted what can be considered his masterpiece, the immense, idiosyncratic Henry, Prince of Wales, on Horseback accompanied by the naked, elderly, winged figure of Time (priv. coll.) which reflects the great hopes invested in the energetic, art-loving prince, who was to die of typhoid in late 1612. For his funeral 'Mr Peake thelder Paynter' was allocated mourning cloth (Auerbach, 133). Also in 1612, Peake was paid £20 for three 'pictures' for Henry's younger brother, the future Charles I, and was mentioned by Henry Peacham in his book on painting and drawing The Gentleman's Exercise. The following year Peake was paid £13 6s. 8d. for a fine full-length portrait of Prince Charles, commissioned to mark the young heir's visit to Cambridge, and still in the possession of the university. In 1616, a warrant was issued to pay Peake £35 for three further portraits of Charles.
At the end of his life Peake seems to have moved to the Old Bailey precinct, London. He died there in 1619 and his will of 10 October was proved six days later. Peake's wife was Elizabeth, daughter of William Beckwith, prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral. Two sons are mentioned: William Peake whose son was Sir Robert Peake (c. 1605–1667), and Luke Peake, described in the will as 'ungoverned' and who is thought to have died before 1634. Peake's grandson, Sir Robert Peake, became a print publisher and a devoted royalist, knighted by Charles I at Oxford in 1645, and died vice-president of the Honourable Artillery Company.
- A. J. Finberg, ‘An authentic portrait by Robert Peake’, Walpole Society, 9 (1920–21), 89–95
- E. Auerbach, Tudor artists (1954), 148–9
- E. Waterhouse, Painting in Britain, 1530–1790, 5th edn (1994), 41–3
- R. C. Strong, ‘Elizabethan painting: an approach through inscriptions’, The Tudor and Stuart monarchy: pageantry, painting, iconography, 2 (1995), 260–67 [repr., with a little updating, of Burlington Magazine article, 1963]
- M. Edmond, ‘New light on Jacobean painters’, Burlington Magazine, 118 (1976), 74–83
- M. Edmond, ‘Limners and picturemakers’, Walpole Society, 47 (1978–80), 60–242, esp. 129–31, 145, 170
- R. Woudhuysen-Keller, S. Thirkettle, and I. MacClure, ‘The examination and restoration of Henry prince of Wales on horseback by Robert Peake’, Bulletin of the Hamilton Kerr Institute, 1 (1988), 15–39, 117
- E. Chirelstein, ‘Lady Elizabeth Pope: the heraldic body’, Renaissance bodies, ed. L. Gent and N. Llewellyn (1990), 36–59
- K. Hearn, ed., Dynasties: painting in Tudor and Jacobean England, 1530–1630 (1995), 185–9, nos. 126–8 [exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London, 12 Oct 1995 – 7 Jan 1996]
- K. Baetjer, ‘British portraits in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (summer 1999), 9–13
- T. V. Wilks, ‘The court culture of Prince Henry and his circle, 1603–1613’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1987, 86–92, 97–8
- C. Bertana, ‘Il ritratto di uno Stuart alla corte dei Savoia’, Studi Piemontesi, 22/2 (Nov 1983), 423–6
- will, commissary court of London, GL, MS 9171/23, fol. 320r
- R. C. Strong, Henry, prince of Wales, and England's lost Renaissance (1986)
- TNA: PRO, E 351/2249
Wealth at Death
see will, commissary court of London, GL, MS 9171/23, fol. 320r