Portrait of Will Somers

Unlike the portrait of Will Somers (d. 1560) in the Psalter of Henry VIII, this engraving is posthumous, though clearly resembles those done during his lifetime.

Noteworthy is the background street scene, which seems to feature people in various forms of play and entertainment: a man walking on stilts, one juggling, another spinning a top, several apparently tumbling, a boy or man rolling a hoop and a boy riding a hobby-horse.  Somehow an appropriate back-drop for a professional jester.

The inscription beneath mentions that the prints ‘Are to be sould by Thomas Ienner at the whit beare in Cornewell. Fran:s Del: Scul’, followed by a rhyme referring to Somers himself, suggesting he was at ease in his role and title of jester, bestowed on him by the king, and considered his name, echoing the season, to reflect a sunny disposition:

What though thou thinkst mee clad in strange attire?

Knowe I am suted to my own deseire

And yet the Characters describ’d upon mee

May shew thee, that a King bestow’d them on mee.

This Horne I have, betokens Sommers game,

All with my Nature well agreeing too,

As both the Name, and Tyme and Habit doe.

The engraving is held in the Royal Collection, according to which:

The print formed part of an album of portrait prints assembled by Cassiano and his younger brother Carlo Antonio dal Pozzo in Rome. Described in an early nineteenth-century inventory of prints in George III’s library as Heads of English illustrious Personages, the album was dismantled later in the nineteenth century and incorporated into the sequences of British portrait prints in the collection.

See also alongside a later version by an unknown artist: ‘Portrait of William Sommers – Jester to Henry VIII’ (1798), after Francis Delaram’s engraving (c.1621-22); Scottish National Portrait Gallery, public domain; listed in F. O’Donoghue, Engraved British Portraits Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum (London: 1908) vol. 4,  p. 146

Portrait of William Sommers - Delaram - Royal Collection
Portrait of William Sommers - unknown artist, after Francis Delaram - Scottish National Portrait Gallery, public domain.

Source: Portrait of William Sommers (c. 1621-22), Francis Delaram (1590-1627), engraving; The Royal Collection

References: Mark McDonald, The Print Collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo. I: Ceremonies, Costumes, Portraits and Genre, 3 vols (Royal Collection Trust, 2017), part of The Paper Museum of Cassiano dal Pozzo: A Catalogue Raisonné, cat. no. 1460.


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