Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682) 1675c.

Studio of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682), Studio of Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
21 x 17 inches 53.2 x 43.1 cm
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The image of Prince Rupert in this portrait derives at a very close remove from a Lely type of c.1674, which can be seen in such examples as the bust portrait in armour at Warwick Castle and in the more famous full-length in Garter Robes in the collection of the Duke of Grafton. This present example preserves perfectly the sardonic twist of the lips and sombre, even cold, expression. The lips alone would suggest a particular accomplishment on the part of the artist, above the usual run of studio repetitions. The hair also, where deft shadows show the curls overhanging the forehead, is the work of a talented follower.

Prince Rupert has enjoyed in posterity a better reputation than he may ever have had during his life. Quite rightly, subsequent generations have admired his courage in serving his uncle King Charles I during the Civil War, where he commanded the Royalist cavalry at engagements such as Edge Hill and Marston Moor. They have equally found sympathetic the scientific and artisitc curiosity that he was able to indulge after the Restoration. He was closely involved in the business of the Royal Society -and, for example, introduced Rupert's Drops to this country. He was also a pioneer of mezzotint engraving -although he did not, as once thought, invent the process- and corresponded on the subject with John Evelyn. He suffered, however, from the jealously and mistrust of two sets of the population. On the one hand, he was feared by his adversaries of the 1640s, both as an accomplished general, and -sometimes with reason- as a foreign soldier who fought his battles with the bloodthirstiness more commonly seen on the battlefields of Europe, on which he had, of course, come of age, fighting for his father''s throne in Bohemia. There was a good number of people in England who would never wish him well after rumoured massacres in actions such as the siege of Birmingham. For this reason, among others, although he enjoyed a career as an admiral under Charles II, observers such as Pepys seldom speak kindly of him or take any pleasure in his successes. Equally, for the second part of his detractors, he suffered from the jealousy of all of those royalists who were less talented and courageous in the field, and who resented him having command over them because he was a foreigner. It is pleasing, therefore, that after his death at least, he is appreciated as a dynamic officer, popular with those under his command who were not blinded by jealousy, and as an intelligent and inquiring mind who may be said to have assisted at the birth of English scientific investigation.
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