Adrian Vanson

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James VI, c. 1585, by Adrian Vanson
Edinburgh Castle

Adrian Vanson (died c. 1602) was court portrait painter to James VI of Scotland.

Adrian's first works for James VI in Scotland were two pictures to be sent to Theodore Beza, for which he was paid £8-10s in June 1581.[1] Portraits of John Knox and George Buchanan had been sent to Geneva in November 1579 for inclusion as woodcuts in Theodore Beza's Icones (1580). Those portraits of the Scottish reformers arrived too late for the book, and the woodcuts of Knox and James VI published in Simon Goulart's 1581 edition of the Icones are thought to follow Vanson's pictures. Another woodcut image of George Buchanan, which was never used in the Icones, but appeared in other works, has been attributed to Arnold Bronckorst.[2]

Knox from Beza's Icones,
after Adrian Vanson

Adrian succeeded Arnold as "King's painter" in Scotland in May 1584,[3] and his appointment and yearly fee of £100 was confirmed by privy seal letter on 20 August 1584.[4]

Vanson also painted ceremonial spears and banners for the coronation of Anne of Denmark. When he was made a burgess of Edinburgh, it was hoped he would teach his craft to apprentices.[5] He may have been 'Lord Seton's painter', who was recorded drawing portraits for coins at the mint in Edinburgh.[6] Lord Seton had served as a diplomat and had various European contacts, and his third son John joined the household of the Earl of Leicester in England 1575.[7]

Attributed portraits include James VI; Anne of Denmark; Patrick Lyon, Lord Glamis; Sir Thomas Kennedy of Culzean; Agnes Douglas, Countess of Argyll.[8] Vanson's James VI of circa 1585 survives at Edinburgh castle. In May 1586 a French ambassador in Scotland, the Baron d'Esneval, promised to get Mary, Queen of Scots a copy of a recent portrait of James VI from the only painter in Edinburgh.[9] There had been rumours of an embassy to Denmark to discuss the king's marriage in April 1586.[10] It is thought the picture at Edinburgh Castle was made by Vanson for this embassy or a similar purpose.[11]

Adrian was probably born in Breda, the son of Willem Claesswen van Son by Kathelijn Adriaen Matheus de Blauwverversdochter. His uncle Peter Mattheus was a painter in London.[12]

Adrian was married to Susanna de Colonia, who became an active business woman in Edinburgh, at Dordrecht, on 31 March 1577. Her brother was the portrait painter Adam de Colone. Although the family were of Flemish origin, Vanson's relative or brother Abraham Vanson was also in Edinburgh working as a goldsmith. After Adrian's death, in 1610 Susanna petitioned the king for outstanding payments.[13]

External links[edit]

Agnes Douglas, attributed to Adrian Vanson
National Galleries of Scotland


  1. ^ Thomson, Duncan, Painting in Scotland, (1975), 25-26; citing NAS E21//62 f.135v.
  2. ^ Cameron, J. K., 'Further information on Portraits of George Buchanan', SHR, vol. 42, no.134, part 2 (Oct. 1963), 135-142: Thomson (1975) does not discuss the Buchanan.
  3. ^ Thomson, Duncan, Painting in Scotland 1570-1650, National Galleries of Scotland, (1975), 25.
  4. ^ Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland, vol. 8, (1982), p. 396, no. 2287, 20 August 1584, to 'Hadrian Fansoun.'
  5. ^ Extracts from the records of the burgh of Edinburgh, 1573-1589, Scottish Burgh Records Society, (1882), 446; 31 December 1585, 'Adrian Vanyone, Dutchmen.'
  6. ^ Thomson, Duncan, Painting in Scotland, (1975), 25.
  7. ^ CSP Scotland, vol.5 (1907), p.120
  8. ^ Thomson, Duncan, Painting in Scotland, (1975), 25-31.
  9. ^ Strickland, Agnes, Letters of Mary Stuart, vol. 3. London (1843), 194: Labanoff, A., vol. 6, 270-1, Mary had asked d'Esneval; "Je vous prie me recouvrer de mon filz ung sien pourtraict en grand, faict sur sa personne propre," Chartley 30 April 1586.
  10. ^ Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 8 (1914), nos 356, 362, 365.
  11. ^ See 'information from Philip Mould' in external links.
  12. ^ Murphy, Nathan W. and Leslie Mahler, "The King, Vanson, and de Colonia Ancestors of William Fitzhugh of Virginia," 'The American Genealogist,' 88 (2016):152-157.
  13. ^ Apted and Hannabuss, Dictionary of Painters in Scotland, SRS (1978) 98-99.
Preceded by
Arnold Bronckorst
Painter at the Scottish royal court
Succeeded by
Jacob de Wet