‘The Headless Horseman’ (via Kintzertorium)
Equestrian portrait known as ‘The Headless Horseman’: a man, whose face has been completely erased, in armour and sash, holding stick, with page standing on the right, and battle scene in the background, in an ornate frame.
Engraving made by Pierre Lombart after Anthony van Dyck, France, 1655.
► This print is celebrated for the number of transformations that it underwent over a period of many years. G.S.Layard wrote an entire book about it under the title ‘The Headless Horseman’, in 1922, in which he identified seven states. In the first the horseman is Cromwell; in the second there is no head; in the third and fourth he is transformed into Louis XIV; in the fifth he is Cromwell again; in the sixth he is Charles I, and in the seventh again Cromwell. The British Museum possesses impressions of each of Layard’s states except the first.
► In fact there is an even earlier state, of which a photograph was presented to the BM by Professor W.C.Abbott in 1932. The lettering reads: ‘Oliverius Magnae Britanniae Hiberniae et totius Anglici imperii Protector. Hanc summi et toto terrarum orbe celeberrimi herois effigiem Supremo suae celsitudinis Consilio DDD Petrus Lombardus.’ Under the horse’s hoof is ‘P.Lombart sculpsit’. It may be doubted whether even this really was the first state, for Cromwell’s head has certainly been re-engraved.
The lettering makes it clear that it was Lombart who dedicated the print to the Council. Piper noted an entry in the State Papers for July 1655, when Lombart was paid £20 for ‘presenting several portraits of his Highness to the Council’. He linked this with the print of Cromwell with a page, but it fits better with this plate.
► It was Cromwell’s death and the subsequent collapse of the Commonwealth in 1660 that led to the subsequent transformations. The first of them seems to have been made by Lombard himself, who took the plate with him to France, but the later states are after his death and were made to cater to the curiosity of print collectors. The original copper plate found its way to the Stirling collection of Keir in Scotland, and now belongs to the same collector as has lent this impression.
► The design is cribbed by Lombart from an equestrian portrait of Charles I by van Dyck. The autograph is now in the Royal collection, but it is very likely that Lombart used the version that is now at Petworth. In the 1650s it was in Northumberland House in London, and an inventory shows that ‘the face was not finished’ at that time. Robert Walker, with whom Lombart was closely associated, did not hesitate to use van Dyck in the same way. When asked ‘why he did not make some of his own postures, says he, if I could get better I would not do Vandikes. He would not bend his mind to make any postures of his own’.
► Piper unfortunately omitted the engravings in his study of the portraits of Cromwell in the Walpole Society, and it is difficult to understand the sequence of their production. Some prints seem to have been lost completely. On 5 March 1657, William Gilbertson entered in the Stationers Register ‘The portrature of his highnesse, Oliver, Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland in a knot, 1 large sheet’. This has not been identified.