A family of Scotts moved into the Museum in 1967, but you’ve likely seen neither hide nor hair of them. The portraits were a gift from North Carolinian Col. James MacLamroc, who traced his history to the Scott family. Shortly after the paintings were donated, they found their way to the Museum storage vaults, largely because of the poor state of their appearance (discolored varnish and retouching from past restorations).
With renewed interest in this area of our collection, these paintings are now undergoing an in-depth study so we can understand their history and prepare them for conservation work. Preliminary research has revealed a number of intriguing details.
The paintings, which have not yet been attributed to an artist, appear to date from approximately 1590 to 1620, an interesting period in British history that includes the end of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, the ascension of King James I, the founding of the first British colonies in North America, and the continuing religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. Our research has revealed that Sir John Scott (at center) was a member of Parliament and a member/contributor to the Virginia Company that established Jamestown. Sir John was also implicated in the famous Essex rebellion against Queen Elizabeth, which landed him in the Tower of London; he narrowly escaped the chopping block.
Sir John’s second wife, Lady Catherine Smythe Scott (at left in white), was first married to a mayor of London. She may have been the “strong-willed wife” who was said to have escaped confinement in her own home by using a bodkin to tunnel her way out.
Of particular interest to connoisseurs of fine beverages and incantations would be Reginald Scott (far right). Reginald was a bit of a nonconformist, highly educated, a writer. His first well-known book concerns hops and helped spur that crop’s cultivation in England. Reginald’s second great book was The Discouerie of Witchcraft, wherein the Lewde dealing of Witches and Witchmongers is notablie detected. This book is cited as one of the first to debunk the idea of witchcraft, calling for an end to witch hunts. It was also the first to document sleight of hand and magic tricks. An extremely popular book during Reginald Scott’s lifetime, it also took bravery to write, since most people strongly believed in magic and the need to prosecute practitioners. The book was eventually banned and ordered burned by King James I—the same King James who’s famous for the King James Bible, which was 400 years old last year.
NCMA research on the Scott paintings, made possible by the Jim and Ann Goodnight/Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, started about two years ago and is expected to continue for several more years. Next month I’ll be traveling to the UK to continue research. The trip will include plenty of meetings with specialists and hours in the archives of art and history museums. It will also include an event that is truly a very odd coincidence, the rededication of the tomb monument for Lady Catherine Smythe Scott in Nettlestead, Kent. The tomb is located in the same church with that of her husband Sir John Scott, the church next to the house where they lived 400 years ago. The rededication service will be attended by the local community as well as historians and Scott family descendents. I’m sure the Scott family stories will be flowing, hopefully along with some of that hoppy magical brew that the Scotts helped bring about. Maybe we will even get to the bottom of this bodkin escape tale.