This jewel-like miniature owes its intensity of colouring to the enamels used to paint the Countess on copper. The enamels have retained their colours allowing us to see what the large-scale portrait the miniature was painted from would have looked like.

There are two versions of the large portrait, one in the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia and the other in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

There are differences between the large portraits, in the earliest, Rachel appears with a skull at her feet whilst in the Fitzwilliam version Rachel rests her foot on the skull holding a gold sceptre topped with a phoenix, both gestures indicting the triumph of the (after) life over death. The miniature was painted after the version in the Fitzwilliam museum.

In life, Rachel was born in France. She came to England in 1634 on her second marriage to Thomas Wriothesely, 4th Earl Southampton, introducing her to English court life. On 9th November 1634, Viscount Conway wrote, “My Lady Southampton is come to this town, she is very merry, very discreet, very handsome and very religious, she was called in France La belle and vertueus Huguenotte and to my Lord Southampton’s great joy she is with child”. Sadly, Rachel died in childbirth in 1640.

It is likely the second large-scale portrait was completed after her death with some of the objects in the original version changed to reflect themes of death and mortality.

Rachael Countess of Southampton was the grandmother of Lady Rachael Russell who married the 2nd Duke of Devonshire, so it is likely that this miniature entered into the collection through Lady Rachael.

The miniature has had an eventful life, attested by the large repaired crack across the surface. The 6th Duke of Devonshire recalled 'The Countess of Southampton … has been repaired by Bone, my father having dropped and broken it into many bits.'

This damage does not detract from the artistry of Petitot; the miniature was described by Horace Walpole as “the most capital work in enamel in the world”.

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