CRITZ, John de, the Elder
(b. ca. 1551, Antwerpen, d. 1642, London)

Biography

English painter of Flemish origin, part of a family of painters. He was brought to England as an infant in 1552. In or about 1567 he was apprenticed to the Flemish Mannerist painter Lucas de Heere (c. 1534-c. 1584), then resident in England. De Critz stayed with him for at least four years; it was probably de Heere who introduced him to the statesman Sir Francis Walsingham (?1530-1590), for whom he worked in Paris (and perhaps in Italy) on at least six occasions (1582-88). He supplied his patron with several works by his own hand and perhaps by others. It may be inferred from his training and from his trips to France that de Critz was fully aware of European Mannerism and the school of Fontainebleau. Thus it may well be that his was the driving force behind the development in England of the exotic, courtly and highly mannered Elizabethan portrait style.

In 1603 de Critz was appointed Serjeant-Painter, a post that from 1607 he shared with Robert Peake. Most of the evidence suggests that he progressively took on the role of an organizer rather than a producer of art; the vast majority of payments to him are for decorative work at the various royal palaces. It is unlikely that he undertook much of the manual labour himself: he is known to have employed numerous assistants and apprentices, and from about 1612 there are no references to his painting portraits. Nevertheless, he continued, almost to the end of his life, to receive large sums regularly from the Lord Chamberlain's office for preparing decorations and restoring works of art.

No signed or fully documented work by de Critz is known, but the first works that may reasonably be attributed to him date from the 1580s. These are the numerous portraits of Walsingham, variants of a standard portrait pattern. There are many English courtly portraits of very high quality from the last two decades of the 16th century and later, which defy attribution for lack of evidence. Considering his exalted patronage (he worked extensively for the Cecils at Hatfield House, Herts), de Critz was probably responsible for some of these.

Recent attempts to group together a suggested oeuvre for him seem highly speculative. Nevertheless, records survive among the Cecil papers of payments to de Critz in 1606 for full-length portraits of King James I, Queen Anne of Denmark and Henry, Prince of Wales, and of Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, and his father, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burleigh. For want of authenticated autograph works, de Critz's personal contribution to the art of painting in England is impossible to gauge. However, since he was at the head of the most substantial artistic studio in London at the turn of the 17th century, his influence must have been seminal.

Of the 16 children (by three wives) of John de Critz the Elder, three sons are known as painters. His eldest son, John de Critz the Younger (c. 1591-c. 1642), was briefly Serjeant-Painter after his father's death: all available documentation suggests he was a decorator rather than a portrait painter. Thomas de Critz (1607-1653) was also a decorative painter and was entrusted with the restoration and cleaning of King Charles I's paintings, including works by Titian. Emanuel de Critz (1608-1665) was a portrait painter. He bought paintings and sculpture at the sale of the collection of Charles I and was probably a dealer.