Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Francis, Viscount Rialton (1678-1766) 

Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt. (1646-1723)

Portrait of Francis, Viscount Rialton (1678-1766), Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt.
Oil and Canvas
50 1/8 X 39 7/8 in. (127.3 x 101.3 cm.)
The Dukes of Leeds, Hornby Castle, Yorkshire, until 2014.
Hornby Castle, Catalogue of Pictures, London, 1898, p. 12, no. 127. Historical and descriptive catalogue of pictures belonging to His Grace The Duke of Leeds, London, 1902, p. 48, no. 127.
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The present work, painted in the mid-1680s, is arguably one of the most accomplished examples of child portraiture by Kneller painted in his formative years in England.

Francis Godolphin, later Viscount Rialton, was the only child of Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin (1645-1712). On his father’s death in 1712 he succeeded to the Earldom of Godolphin and in rank and wealth was typical of the highest echelon of sitter that Kneller was to go onto immortalize in his astonishing career as the leading court painter.

Kneller arrived in England in 1676 and had, by this stage, already built a considerable reputation in the Low Countries as a history painter, probably training with Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) in Amsterdam and studying the works of Titian (1488/90-1576) in Italy. Within two years of his arrival Kneller had secured a sitting with the king via James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (1649-85), after which his ‘reputation increased so that most nobleman & Ladies would have their picture done by him’.

The death of court painter Sir Peter Lely in 1680 meant that Kneller was presented with an unequalled opportunity to step into the fold, and his portraits from the 1680s, such as the present example, reflect his limitless ambition to embrace the full baroque style to which England had become so accustomed through the works of the previous court painter, Sir Peter Lely. The capacity to both portray reality and simultaneously elevate the subject was the portrait painter’s art, and in this tours de force early child portrait Kneller conquers both, lavishing attention to details such as architecture, landscape and Francis’s pet dog . The colouring too is particularly bold and seductive, harking back to Rubens and Flemish masters with the saturated red of the flowers in the top right corner echoing the youthful glow on his cheeks.

In June 1698, shortly after marrying Henrietta Churchill (1681-1733), eldest daughter of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), Francis was appointed Joint Registrar of the Court of Chancery and in 1701 was elected an MP for East Looe, Cornwall, and soon after for Helston – a town near his family seat Godolphin House. Francis held numerous positions and offices early in his career and on the death of his father on 15 September 1712, he became 2nd Earl of Godolphin. In 1715 Godolphin was appointed Lord Lieutenant of the County of Oxford and the following year Lord of the Bedchamber to George I (1660-1727). As a member of the Privy Council Godolphin served a Lord Justice in the king’s absence and on the accession of George II (1683-1760) was appointed First Lord of the Bedchamber and then Governor of the Isles of Scilly. In 1735 Godolphin was created Baron Godolphin of Helston and later in the year was appointed Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, which was the last office he held.

From the early 1730s onwards Godolphin’s interests swayed towards horse racing and in 1733, following the death of his friend Edward Coke of Longford Hall, he was bequeathed a number of mares and foals. His equestrian ambitions were later expanded through the purchase of an Arabian stallion previously owned by Louis XV (1710-74), which would later become known as the Godolphin Arabian and which sired some of the greatest thoroughbreds of the eighteenth century.

Godolphin died on 17 January 1766 and was buried at Kensington church, London, and the Barony of Godolphin of Helston passed to his cousin, Francis Godolphin - the Earldom of Godolphin however, became extinct.
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