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ID number:  BIRRC-A0435
Institution:  Research and Cultural Collections
Named collection:  Campus Collection of Fine and Decorative Art
Artist / Maker:  Unknown
Title / Object name:  Portrait of Tom Skelton
Object type:  Painting
Culture:  English
Date made:  17th century
Materials:  Oil on canvas
Measurements:  182.9 x 121.9 cm

Purchased by the Shakespeare Institute in November 1957. Formerly part of the Haigh Hall collection of the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres. The painting, another version of a picture at Muncaster Castle, near Ravenglass, Cumberland, depicts a fool in a checked costume with various impedimenta of his trade, which are explained in a piece of doggerel on the left hand side of the picture. The doggerel specifically mentions Haigh Hall and the surrounding countryside but gives no clue to the date of the portrait or to the name of the artist concerned - the jester was simply referred to as 'Tom Fool'. The nineteenth century label attached to the picture describes it as 'Tom Skelton, fool to the Crawford and Balcarres Family'. Skelton probably sat for his portrait between 1659 and 1665. The composition of the work parodies the formal estate portrait of a great minister of the crown. The portrait is of particular interest for the evidence provided for the fool's costume is motley.

Notes:  Information obtained from Instagram follower (thehomespunheart): 'Tom Skelton is linked with Muncaster Castle in Cumbria England. It is said that although people took him for a fool, he was far from it. His ghost is said to watch over the castle and its occupants'.

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