The Saltonstall Family

Des Granges, David

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey
  • Date of entry: Feb-11-2000
  • Last revised: Oct-18-2001


This monumental portrait of the 17th century knight, Sir Richard Saltonstall, and his family was commissioned for the Saltonstall family home. The wealth of the family is indicated by intricate tapestries, a woven rug, jewels, and the rich fabrics of clothing and curtains. Absent from the picture is any religious iconography.

Saltonstall stands left of center and draws back the rich red curtain on the deathbed of his first wife. With his ungloved right hand he holds the hand of his eldest child, a son. This son is still young enough to wear a dress, but his coloring and the dress style indicate a boy. He in turn holds the arm of his younger sister, so that a diagonal line is formed from the father's hat, down his arm and through the two children.

The pale dead mother lies all in white, her eyes open, and her upturned hand reaching towards her children. On the right side of the picture sits Saltonstall's second wife, and she holds her baby on her lap. She also is dressed in white and is separated from her husband by the first wife. In addition, the diagonal line between Saltonstall's left hand and his baby is interrupted by his dead wife. However, he does gaze in the direction of his second wife, although no one in the portrait looks directly at another person.


This is a portrait of love, remembrance, and promise. In our current age of complicated family relationships and "blended" families, it is refreshing to note that family relationships have always been complex. This artwork is both document (of lineage and wealth) and story. From our modern viewpoint we would wonder what the second wife thought as she passed this painting everyday in her home. At the time, however, depictions of living and dead family members together were not uncommon, particularly in tomb art.


Painted 1636-1637. This painting is large (214 x 276 cm, or about 7 x 9 feet; plus frame). It is attributed to Des Granges, although it is his only known painting on this scale; he was a portrait miniaturist.

Primary Source

Tate Gallery, London