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John Donne

Image credit: National Portrait Gallery, London

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Donne was both a poet and clergyman. In his youth he wrote passionate and witty metaphysical love poems including The Bait and The Flea. He was ordained in 1615 and thereafter wrote eloquent religious verse and sermons. He was Chaplain to King James I and was appointed Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in 1621. His work became widely celebrated following general publication after his death.
This remarkable image is one of the earliest surviving examples of an Elizabethan author portrait. The poet is depicted with his head set back in the shadows, topped by a wide-brimmed hat and his collar left untied at the neck – a fashionable literary affectation of melancholy. The Latin inscription translates as 'O Lady, lighten our darkness' and suggests that the picture may have been intended as a plea to a lover.

National Portrait Gallery, London



John Donne




oil on panel


H 77.1 x W 62.5 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Purchased with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, Lord Harris of Peckham, L. L. Brownrigg, the Portrait Fund, Sir Harry Djanogly, the Headley Trust, the Eva & Hans K. Rausing Trust, The Pidem Fund, Mr O. Damgaard-Nielsen, Sir David and Lady Scholey and numerous Gallery visitors and supporters, 2006

Work type



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National Portrait Gallery, London

St Martin’s Place, London, Greater London WC2H 0HE England

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