Portrait medal of Lucy Harington, countess of Bedford (1581-1627)

by Nicholas Briot (c.1579-1646)

Portrait medal of Lucy Harington, countess of Bedford (1581-1627), by Nicholas Briot (c.1579-1646), oval cast and chased silver, obv. LVCIA HARINGHTON COM BEDFOR, bust left wearing coronet ruff and plume of heron feathers; rev. IVDICIO NON METV, serpent with tail coiled around its head; engraved signature on truncation (‘N. Briot’), dated 1625 (unique and unpublished), 53 x 42 mm.

Lucy Harington, wife of the 3rd duke of Bedford, was one of the most interesting and vivacious women in court circles. She was a friend of James I’s queen, Anne of Denmark, and daughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia, and a patroness of John Donne, Ben Jonson and Indigo Jones, who designed a number of Masque costumes for her. A portrait at Woburn Abbey shows her in one of these, wearing a plume of heron feathers similar to that shown on the medal. The medal of Lucy Harington is only known from this piece, which may well have been the sole specimen produced for presentation to the sitter. It was unknown to Hawkins (Medallic Illustrations), and first surfaced in 1981 at a Christies sale (London, 17 February 1981, lot 358). The medal complements the Fitzwilliam Museum’s superb miniature by Oliver showing a half-length figure plausibly identified as Lucy Harington.

Nicholas Briot (c.1579-c.1646) was a celebrated French coin engraver, medallist and inventor of minting machinery. He held the post of engraver-general at the Paris mint (1606-25), but in Summer 1625 moved to Britain where he became the principal die engraver at the Royal Mint and master of the mint in Edinburgh (1635-9). During the Civil War he was attached to the king’s court. This silver medal, produced shortly after his arrival in England, is of an exquisite quality that only Briot was capable of at this period.

Purchased from the Cunliffe Fund, and with the very generous assistance of the National Art Collections Fund.

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