Appendix 3: The decoration of the Queen's Cabinet

Pages 92-96

Survey of London Monograph 14, the Queen's House, Greenwich. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1937.

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The Decoration of The Queen's Cabinet

Negotiations for the decoration of the Queen's Cabinet were opened by Sir Balthazar Gerbier in November 1639. Gerbier had been Master of the Horse to the Duke of Buckingham, and in 1631 was appointed the King's Agent in Brussels at a salary of 40s. per diem. He had been instructed by William Murrey, one of the Grooms of the Bedchamber, to approach Jordaens, and deputed his friend Edward Norgate to report to Murrey as follows:

Nov. 11/21, 1639.
Instructions for Edward Norgate, esq., touching the pictures to be made by Jordans, according the directions sent by Mr. Murrey, of His Majts bedchamber.

Imprimis: to represent unto Mr. Murrey, that as soone Sr Balthasar Gerbier had received his lre. of direction, wth the papers bearing measure for pictures to be bespoken of Jordans, the said Sr B. Gerbier caused copies to be made of the said measures, and ye directions written thereon, in French; that Jordans should not discover for whom ye Pictures are to be.

2. That Sr Balt. Gerbier used the Abbate d'Escaglia to make the bargaine wth Jordans.

3. That the said Abbate, living att Antwerp, & having good skill in handling such mercenary men, was, by Sr B. Gerbier, thought the fittest hand to guide the said business.

4. That he hath accepted the same very willingly and cheerefully, wthout that Sr Balthasar hath written unto him, for whom the pictures are to be.

5. That the said Abbate de Scaglia hath (after Jordans had taken some dayes to consider the taske he is to undertake) written unto Sr Balt. Gerbier, that Jordans demands £680 sterlg Engl. money for the whole worke.

6. That he will not, as yett, promise to performe the said worke in lesse then two yeares.

7. That he wilbe paid for the designe of the worke if makes one, as Sr B. Gerbier thinkes most fitting he should, that Mr. Murrey may shew unto his Majty what Jordans intends to doe, and soe his Majty be satisfied, as much as possible, touching the same.

8. That Jordans will dispatch the worke by peeces, and that those shalbe sent, two or three togeather, as he shall have finisht them, It being the custome of these Painters to worke by fits, and most part on two or three peeces att one time, according their colours serves them.

9. That Mr. Murrey wilbe pleased to represent the same unto his Majty.

10. To take a course for the paymt of the worke; for as it's required by parts, soe must the payment be punctuall.

11. In case his Majty remaynes satisfied wth the bargaine, and wth Jordans manner of painting, that then, Mr. Murrey having setled a course for the payment, he wilbe pleased to cause somebody to take an exact measure of the severall peeces wth pack thread, the length & the breadth, and cause a litle peece of parchmt to be fastened to the end, whereon the peece specified whereof it beares the measure; since otherwayes Jordans may as soone faile to understand the English foote as Sr Peter Reubens did, wch he cannot, if the measures sent by lines in pack thread as aforesaid.

The course for payment of the money (wch monies are to be paid from time to time as the pictures are finished) might be (if soe thought fitt) to cause young Mr. Wake to give a letter of credence upon his father Mr. Lyonell Wake, att Antwerp, to ye end of payment, on Sr Balt. Gerbier's orders, to the somme of £680 sterlg.

[Translated from the French.]
The Note of Jordaens the Painter.

1. The Sofito, consisting of 9 pieces, some great and some florins little, the price will be 2400
2. The first quarter of the Room, upon the chimney, 3 great pieces, will come to 1800
3. The second part, where there are two Balconies, there will 5 pieces, some great and some little, will come to about 1000
4. The third quarter, where there is a Balcony, 3 pieces, estimated at 700
5. The fourth quarter, where the door is, there will be 2 great pieces, which will come to 900
Amounts to florins 6800

which makes 680l. sterling.

Two months later he wrote to Norgate suggesting that the King might be persuaded to employ Rubens for the work, for "of the two most certaine Sir Peter Reubens is the gentilest in his representations."

In the three following letters he emphasises the need for payment if pictures are to be delivered:

Brussels, March 14/24, 1639-40.
Mr. Surveyer Inigo Jones, Etc.,
Your lre, dated 6th prest, I have receaved by ye ordy of this weeke; seene, in ye said lre, his Majts pleasure yt ye painter Jordans must bee remembred to make, in ye first peece of painting (intended for her Majty,) ye faces of ye woemen as beautifull as may bee, ye figures gracious and suelta; wch I will procure ye Abath d'Escaglia to tell unto ye said Jordaens; for I have made use of the said Abbate in this buisnesse, as you will see by coppy, herewth, of ye memorandum wch Mr. Norgate carryed wth him, when he returned from hence into England; in wch I have exprest a coursse necessary to bee taken for ye paymt, since painters pencells move not wth out yt musicke.

"I have since desired ye said Mr. Norgate to know his Majts pleasure, whether Sr Peeter Rubens his pencell would not please as well as yt of Jordans, so would bee as reasonable in ye price; on wch point I have receaved noe answeare, though I have redoubled ye quæries. . . .
So I rest, &c.
B. Gerbier.

Brussels, Mar. 28/Apr. 7, 1640.
Mr. Surveyer,
Till I have spoken, touching the Pictures to be made by Jordans, or by Sr Peter Reubens, wth the Abate d'Escaglia (who is come from Antwerp hether & is now in his devotions according the time), I can but accuse the receipt of yr letter, dated 20th March, and putt unto yr remembrance the two principall points markt in the Instructions Mr. Norgate carried wth him, the procuring the exact measures of the intended pictures, in the manner sett downe in his saide instructions & the matter for payment settled; for these men will have that found 'ere they part from their ware.
I rest, &c.
B. Gerbier.

Sir B. Gerbier to King Charles I. (Postscript.)

Brussels, April 11/21, 1640.
Rubens prooves lame, and Jordaens will not worke without money. Mr. Surveyor answeris not on that point.

Gerbier was still anxious that Rubens should undertake the painting of the ceiling pictures, but his ideas on the payment of artists were curious. He wrote to the Abbé de Scaglia suggesting that Jordaens would perhaps be "glad to get rid of the said sofito, on account of the fore-shortenings," and that Rubens might undertake the work for the same price of 1,980 florins. The price Jordaens had actually agreed to was 2,400 florins. The Abbé replied:

(Translated from the French.)
Abbé de Scaglia to Sir B. Gerbier.
Antwerp, May 3/13, 1640.
I have just seen the Chevalier Rubens, having found him at present without company. He tells me that, having considered the trouble, which cannot be avoided in the fore-shortenings (raccourcissements), and that necessarily to adjust the designs, there will require to be much in relief (which takes up time), he does not know how he can do it for less than two thousand patagons. This is, he says, the lowest price, and sans replique, His advice would be, to place, in the middle, the Banquet of the Gods; on one side, when Cupid, having undertaken to make Psyche amorous with one of the populace, becomes amorous himself, and on the other side, her being immortalised in the heavens. The diversity of figures will present an agreeable picture to the eye. He proposes, nevertheless, if it is wished, that others should be employed for the remaining six pieces, that, in such case, to avoid the different styles of painting from being observed, grotesque or other inventions, without figures, might be introduced, desiring, however, to know the height of the place, in order to adhere to the right proportions. I will await whatever you may think that I can do in this matter, wishing in this, and all other ways, to testify how perfectly I am, Sir,
Your very humble
and very obedient Servant,
A. De Scaglia.

Gerbier forwarded the letter to the King, with a further suggestion that Rubens should fill the six small panels with "festoens or little children representing loves." Meanwhile he had also written to Inigo Jones to inform him that one of the pictures by Jordaens was completed. On the 21st of May 1640 this picture was sent by messenger to William Murray.

Sir B. Gerbier to Inigo Jones.
Brussels, May 23/June 2, 1640.
Mr. Surveyer, etc.,>br/>Sr:
My Secretary went hence eare yesterday, and carrieth wth him Jordans picture and ye Landschipp of Sr Peeter Rubens I mentiond in my former. I doe send you, herewith, ye first desyne off ye Squares for wch ye pictures are intended; you will bee pleased to cause ye measures to bee taken and sent mee as before said; for, now his Majty will see ye first peece off Jordans, I shall soon heare whether his pleasure is yt hee shall continue to make ye rest off ye pictures, since there are none more to bee expected from Sr Peeter Rubens, whoe deceased three dayes past . . . . rest: Eta,
B. Gerbier.

Two further letters to Inigo Jones record the progress of the work in 1640:

Brussels, June 13/23, 1640.
Mr Survayer, etc.,
I have receaved ye measures, in thredd, for ye peeces of painting for her Majts Cabinett at Greenwich. I will send them unto Jordaens, but first put to them otther papers, bearing ye names in ye French toungue, yt hee may not, as yett, know for whome ye pictures are; since by Sr Peeter Rubens decease he may bee become more deere in his paintings. The items, wch you doe marcke for Jordans observations, shall be putt unto his remembrance, as I have done heretofore, by ye Abbot d'Escaglia; I will cause my said frind, ye Abbot, to give a spurre to ye expedition. It being all I have to say on this casse, I rest with my best wishes to yrselfe, etca.
Sr, &c.,
B. Gerbier.

Brussels, December 5/15, 1640.
Mr Surveyer,
In answeare of yr lre. of 27th Novr, Jordans hath wrought on severall of ye pictures intended for her Majty, as ye Abbot d'Escaglia hath long signyfied unto mee, with ye item that monney is lookt for by ye said Jordaens; of wch I have given notice unto Mr. Norgate, who returned for answeare yt Mr. Murrey had taken order on yt poinct; whch as yet appeares not soe to mee. The summe for ye whole worke is £680; one hundred hath bin receaved on Sr Job. Harbie his order; Jordans hath not as yett bin tould (forasmuch I know) for whome ye pictures are; the Abbot d'Escaglia is ye man hee takes notice off; Itt were noe civillytie (as I doe conceave) to putt ye Abbott on ye delivery of ye pictures, (made) wth empty hands, Its all I can say on this poinct, soe
I rest
Sr, &c.,
B. Gerbier. (fn. 1)

When the Abbé de Scaglia died on the 21st of May 1641, Jordaens had seven more pictures to hand over to him. (fn. 2) Gerbier left Brussels in August 1641, and no further record is known of the work undertaken by Jordaens. Eight of his pictures were inventoried in one room at Greenwich, but there is no hint of the subjects of the paintings. Max Rooses argues that as the ceilings panels had been intended to represent part of the story of Psyche, the same story would probably be continued on the walls. (fn. 3) Jordaens died at Antwerp in 1678, at the age of eighty-five.


  • 1. The foregoing notes are taken from W. N. Sainsbury's "Original Papers Relating to Rubens."
  • 2. F. Jos. van den Branden, "Geschiedenis der Antwerpsche Schilderschool."
  • 3. Max Rooses, "Jordaens: Sa Vie et ses Oeuvres," pp. 118-121.