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This article is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.

Pictures from the Rylands Library
51. Portraits and Paradoxes in Marvell’s Miscellaneous Poems (1681)
Stella Halkyard
In appearance, so Aubrey tells us, Andrew Marvell was, ‘pretty strong sett… cherry cheek’t’ with a ‘roundish faced… hazel eie, [and] brown haire’. The Nettleton portrait of Marvell, given by his great nephew Robert Nettleton to the British Museum in 1764, and transferred to the National Portrait Gallery in 1879, appears to bear this out. Replete with luxuriant curls and florid complexion, we can, claims Michael Gearin-Tosh, be ‘reasonably certain’ that this is a true likeness of the poet.

The engraved portrait, which appeared as a frontispiece to the first collected edition of Marvell’s verse, Miscellaneous Poems published posthumously in 1681 (represented here in a drawing by the artist Mary Griffiths), is also deemed to be an ‘honest transcription’ (Richard Brilliant) of the poet’s physiognomy. As an authentic portrait of the author of a book, placed to face its title page, this image works to evoke Marvell’s authorial presence, ‘as though the portrait was intended to speak the text of the book like the source from which it flows’ (Sarah Howe). For some historians author portraits exist to convey the idea that the text ‘is the expression of an individual and gives authority to the work’ (Roger Chartier). In contrast, others insist that ‘the mind, the character, the personality [of an author] are expressed in the poems’ for ‘it is the text of the poems that is the portrait’ (Stephen Orgel). This might suggest that Miscellaneous Poems, the only authentic source for most of Marvell’s poetry (Niall Allsopp), provides the true portrait of our ...

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