ANTON RAPHAEL MENGS (1728-1779)
Lord Grey, 5th Earl of Stamford (c. 1760)
Oil on canvas (96 x 74 cm)
Dunham Massey Hall, England
As it is well known, Mengs and Batoni were the undisputed master-portraitists of their time. Every aristocratic British visitor to Rome was portrayed by one or the other. Their style was fairly similar, although they had a different approach to the genre. Batoni favoured full-lengths whereas Mengs produced mainly half-lengths. Batoni tended to idealize their sitters, giving them an aura of glamour by placing them in a palatial environment and, sometimes, dressing them in fancy, Italian-style, luxurious clothes. Mengs was more realistic, he preferred a simpler setting, and he focused on the sitter’s character rather than on his or her social status.
Since the XVI century those who commissioned portraits were depicted either standing or sitting in an idealized setting, sometimes surrounded by attributes like miniatures, sculptures or books that symbolized their artistic or intellectual interests. Lord Grey’s pose suggests that he is a man of learning who has been distracted by a visitor.
Mengs shows here his talent as both a perceptive observer capable of expressing his sitters’ character and a virtuoso in rendering beautiful fabrics and lace. Lord Grey looks very dapper in a beautiful gold-laced suit and a matching cravat. His face does not reveal an inquisitive mind neither a sharp intellect, he seems a rather dull young nobleman. George Grey was a lucky man, born into a wealthy family that owned large tracts of land in Staffordshire and Leicestershire he married an equally wealthy heiress, lady Henrietta Bentinck, daughter of William Bentinck, 2nd Duke of Portland.
Unfortunately, there is very little we can say about George Grey, 5th Earl of Stamford (1737-1819). He was just one more of those ineffectual noblemen who, devoided of talent and interest in either politics or cultural pursuits, led a sterile life. In spite of going on the Grand Tour, he did not seem to be interested in art or antiquities as there is no record of him purchasing works of art apart from this portrait, of course. He was an MP for Staffordshire from 1761 to 1768 and Lord Lieutenant of the county from 1783 to 1819.