Portrait of Ignatius Sancho by Thomas Gainsborough, 1768


This is the only known portrait of the writer Ignatius Sancho. It was painted in 1768, when he was employed as a valet by George Brudenell, the Duke of Montagu. Rather than servants’ livery, he wears a gold-trimmed waistcoat, reflecting his valued position within this noble household. Sancho’s gentlemanly posture, with his hand tucked into his waistcoat, conveys a sense of dignity and poise.

Who made and owned the painting?

It was painted by Thomas Gainsborough (1727‒1788), the great portrait artist who had a profitable business in fashionable 18th-century Bath. Gainsborough also painted the Duke and Duchess of Montagu, and they probably paid for this portrait and presented it to Sancho. After his death, Sancho’s daughter Elizabeth sent it as a gift to their family friend, William Stevenson.

A note on the back

Though the picture is full of skill and warmth, it seems to have been done quickly. A 19th-century catalogue describes a note by Stevenson on the back of the canvas, saying ‘This sketch by Mr Gainsborough, of Bath, was done in one hour and forty minutes, November 29th, 1768’.

The portrait served as the basis for an engraving by Francesco Bartolozzi, which appeared in the printed edition of Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho (1782).

Full title:
Portrait of Ignatius Sancho
1768, Bath, Somerset
Painting / Image
Thomas Gainsborough
Usage terms

Thomas Gainsborough Ignatius Sancho, 1768 Oil on canvas, 73.7 x 62.2 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo: © NGC

Thomas Gainsborough Ignatius Sancho, 1768 Huile sur toile, 73.7 x 62.2 cm, Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, Ottawa. Photo: © MBAC

Held by
National Gallery of Canada

Related articles

Travel, trade and the expansion of the British Empire

Article by:
Jim Watt
Travel, colonialism and slavery, Politics and religion

In the 17th century, London was at the centre of global trade, with goods and individuals arriving in the capital from all over the world. Jim Watt looks at how travel, trade and empire shaped the works of Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, Josiah Wedgwood, Oliver Goldsmith and Ignatius Sancho.

African writers and Black thought in 18th-century Britain

Article by:
S I Martin
Politics and religion, Travel, colonialism and slavery, Language and ideas

By 1780, Britain had a Black population of at least 20,000 people. S I Martin describes how four writers, taken from Africa as children and sold into slavery, grew up to write works that challenged British ideas about race, called for African brotherhood and demanded the abolition of the slave trade.

Voices in the campaign for abolition

Article by:
Brycchan Carey
Politics and religion, Travel, colonialism and slavery

From the mid 18th century, Africans and people of African descent – many of them former slaves – began to write down their stories. Brycchan Carey describes these writings and assesses their role in the abolition of slavery.

Related collection items

Related people

Related teachers' notes

Thumbnail for Sancho teachers notes. highlighted are the words 'Friendship will cast a veil'

Creative writing: Ignatius Sancho, Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho

This teaching pack will introduce students to Ignatius Sancho in his own words through a selection of his letters and invite students to offer a variety of creative responses to Sancho’s life, work and unique voice.

PDF Download Available

Related works

Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African

Created by: Ignatius Sancho

Ignatius Sancho used the medium of letters to record his thoughts on many of the major political, economic and ...