Oil on canvas, 60.5cm by 60.5cm.
Charles Cavendish, who died young, was the brother of Anne, Countess of Exeter (1649-1703).
Written on the stretcher of the painting are the words:’Mr.Charles Cavendish, brother to the first Duke of Devonshire, painted when asleep, by Carlo Maratti.’
Carlo Maratta was the artist and portrait painter much patronised by the 5th Earl and Countess of Exeter, whilst in Rome on the Grand Tour.
This has led to the suggestion that the painting may have been commissioned by the couple whilst in Italy as a memento mori, perhaps on behalf of the countess’s mother Elizabeth, Countess of Devonshire (1619-1689).
The painting came to Burghley as part of a magnificent bequest to the Countess of Exeter from her mother, which is listed in an inventory known as the 1690 Devonshire Schedule.
This records: ‘Oyle Colour pictures….A picture of Mr Charles Cavendish in a Guilt fframe by Rommee.’
This refers to Giovanni Remigio, a Rome-based former student of van Dyck who was primarily a copyist.
However, despite these intriguing possibilities, the portrait is currently attributed to Mary Beale, one of a small group of female artists in London at the time, whose work was much admired by Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680).