Lady Mary Fenwick (1648/50–1708)
Lady Mary Fenwick was the eldest daughter of Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Carlisle. She had been married to Sir John Fenwick for thirty-four years when he was beheaded for high treason in 1697. This mezzotint, after a painting by Michael Dahl, shows Lady Mary looking a lot younger than her 48/50 years. She is wearing what is called deep mourning. This is the term for one of the three official stages of mourning: full or deep mourning was followed by ‘second’ mourning and then by ‘half’ mourning. Around this time in France there were regulations for the length of each stage of mourning. These regulations stipulated that a widow should wear deep mourning for a whole year; second mourning for six months; and third mourning a further six weeks. Clothing for the first stage should be made from dull material; shiny materials were only permitted during the last stage of mourning when it was acceptable to wear less austere dress. Deviation from these conventions would show lack of respect for the dead as well as for the social order. All this additional clothing meant that mourning could be very expensive, especially if the mourner was meticulous about matching their clothing to accessories, such as gloves, buckles, rings and belts. If there were servants in the household, they also had to be clothed appropriately, albeit in lower-quality material.
In this portrait Lady Mary wears deep mourning and no jewellery, but she does have an elaborate ‘fontange’-style headdress. The covering of hair was obligatory for women in deepest mourning: earlier in the century women had worn a veil, the point of which hung over their forehead, hence the term ‘widow’s peak’. The fontange or commode was a tall, stiff headdress made from pleated lawn, lace or gauze, constructed with the help of wire. The headdress might also have an upstanding frill or - as in this case - puffed-up folds in front, with lace or ribbon trims. The name is supposed to derive from Marie Angélique, duchesse de Fontanges, mistress of Louis XIV. The style became fashionable in this country from about 1690 until the end of the first decade of the eighteenth century.
Lady Mary is holding a miniature, presumably of her husband, in her right hand. The entry for John Fenwick in the Dictionary of National Biography lists a miniature by Peter Cross dated c.1680, housed in a private collection.
This is the only known impression of the earliest state, as recorded by John Chaloner Smith in his catalogue of mezzotint portraits. In this state the painter’s name is spelt ‘Doll’: in the next state this is corrected to ‘Dahl’, and the title (which uses the word ‘Relict’ meaning ‘widow’) is extended to include the name of Lady Mary’s father. There is an inscription below the plate mark which says "The gift of the said Ingenious Artist Mr. G. Lumley".
Other prints in the collection of women in mourning dress:
Anne d'Autriche P.8128-R
Catherine de' Medici P.6828-R
Mrs. Knight, singer P.43-1951
Elizabeth, Countess of Essex with her two children P.311-1947
Museum Number P.139-1947