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
- Article by:
- Paterson Joseph
- Satire and humour, Politics and religion, Travel, colonialism and slavery
Paterson Joseph describes how his research into Black British history led him to write his first play, Sancho: An Act of Remembrance. In this one-man show, Paterson Joseph inhabits the life of Ignatius Sancho, the 18th-century composer, aspiring actor, letter-writer and anti-slavery campaigner, who became the first person of African descent to vote in a British general election.
- 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.
- Article by:
- Louise Curran
- Rise of the novel, Language and ideas, Politeness, sensibility and sentimentalism
Louise Curran explores the real and fictional letters published in the 18th century, from the correspondence of Alexander Pope and Ignatius Sancho to Samuel Richardson's hugely popular epistolary novel Pamela and the works it inspired.
Related collection items
Related teachers' notes
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.
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