Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Queen Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705) 

Studio of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Queen Catherine of Braganza (1638-1705), Studio of Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
18 x 15 in (45.7cm x 38.1cm)
Christie’s, London, 24th February 1989, lot 120; Private collection, USA
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This portrait of Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, is a studio variant of the three-quarter-length prime version by Sir Peter Lely in the Royal Collection [RCIN 401214], thought to have been painted between 1663 and 1665, shortly after Catherine’s arrival in England.

Born to King John IV of Portugal and the daughter of the Duke of Medina Sidona, Catherine’s politically strategic union with Charles had been plotted since her earliest years. After a number of complications in her marriage settlement, Catherine set sail for England in April 1662. Her alliance with Charles II in June of that year proved beneficial for both Portugal, who no longer feared attack from Spain, and England who gained Tangiers, Bombay and full trading privileges in the Indies.

Although by the mid-1660s Lely had firmly established his reputation within the court circles, he was not necessarily Catherine’s preferred portrait painter. As a devout Catholic, Catherine held in little regard the scandalous activities of Charles’ court - the same court that Lely had been so successful in capturing in all its pomp and splendour. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that when Catherine wanted to commission an impressive portrait of herself as St. Catherine, she approached Lely’s competitor, the Catholic painter Jacob Huysmans.

Despite being a magnificent portrait, Huysmans image of Catherine was not one that could be readily replicated in varying formats for dispersal amongst the court, for this task Lely was needed. By the mid-1660s Lely’s studio was in full-swing, with a number of highly talented assistants capable of reproducing high quality copies of Lely’s work on demand. Catherine’s decision to sit to Lely was, therefore, a wise and logical one, and although the portrait was quite restrained (perhaps at Catherine’s instigation), it was clearly a huge success and is now considered one of her most iconic portrait-types.

Throughout their marriage Charles' affections waxed and waned for his wife, though he was frequently present at her sick bed and was known to have enjoyed her company. Catherine outlived her husband, who died in 1685, and continued to reside in England until friction with William and Mary made it necessary for her to leave the country in 1692. She died in 1705 after a sudden attack of colic and was buried at Belem.
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