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A portrait of Sir Robert Cotton

2014 November 22

Here is a portrait I drew of Sir Robert Cotton, English courtier, antiquary and founder the Cotton library that I wrote a book about. Here is a high-resolution versionYou can do whatever you want with them!

Sir Robert Cotton, and his beloved Book of Genesis manuscript

Based on an engraving by George Vertue


This previous post explains most of what this is all about.

Specific to this image… this is a hand-drawn reproduction of an 18th-century engraving, which was itself based on a 17th-century portrait of Cotton. All of them depict the baronet with what’s now known as the Cotton Genesis, an ancient Greek manuscript of the Book of Genesis that was probably his favorite thing within all the riches of his library. Sadly, said manuscript suffered from most of the misfortunes of the library in subsequent centuries; again, for details…

In case anyone cares, yes this was difficult. Given how many levels it’s removed from Cotton himself, this is probably not the most faithful of portraits, either, even so. But at this point (and in the absence of photography), this composition has become something of an icon for Cotton. Which is probably just as well, given how much the beard, mustache, and period costume tend to obscure individual features anyway. At all events, it is what I’ve got.

I’m releasing this image without any restrictions or requirements whatsoever. Given its history, you might want to acknowledge the work of George Vertue or Cornelius Johnson (or me), but y’know, whatever. This is twice removed from Johnson’s work, and if draws much more closely on Vertue’s, well… Vertue’s role in the sufferings of the Cotton Genesis kind of undercuts my enthusiasm for his reputation, plus he’s been dead for a couple of centuries and won’t care anyway.

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