Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Queen Catherine of Braganza (1638 - 1705) 1665c.

Studio of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Queen Catherine of Braganza (1638 - 1705), Studio of Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
30 x 25 inches 76 x 63.5 cm
Tong Castle Shrophire c.1870; Henry Graves & Co. London; Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel (1887 - 1959), Hatchlands Surrey; Christie''s London March 7th 1958 (lot 41); Ledger & Son., London; Private Collection St Louis Missouri USA
Sir Oliver Millar The Tudor, Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen 1963 Vol.I p120 sub cat. no. 238
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This portrait is a studio repetition of the bust portion of Lely's ''Windsor Beauty'' portrait of the Queen painted c.1665.

The silver tonality of the dress accentuates the Queen's olive skin, and causes her to shine softly against the brown background. This particularly is an interesting contrast with the English rose complexions that Lely was more used to suggesting. Though not the most famous of the Windsor Beauties - she is too decorous, and without, say, the exposed nipple of the wanton Diana Kirke - Lely manages to imbue the Queen with a particular intelligence: she appear almost to lean forward to address the viewer, and this engagement, which is enhanced is increased here by the truncated composition, makes Catherine of Braganza a true ''speaking portrait'' in the Baroque tradition.

As part of this series commissioned by Anne Hyde Duchess of York - who appears among them - for her apartments at Whitehall Palace Lely painted some twelve portraits of the chief women and beauties of his court between c.1662 and 1665. In the words of Sir Oliver Millar, these paintings are ''the most familiar and the most vulnerable aspect of Lely's achievement.'' Ten of the portraits survive in the Royal Collection, including that of Catherine of Braganza; a further painting described as Lady Fran Hyde is not now known, but may have been of the Duchess''s sister Frances Hyde. James II moved the paintings to Windsor at his accession, after which place they are now named, although they have hung at Hampton Court since 1835. As a series they are a remarkable tour de force, and as single portraits they exhibit to the full those qualities that mark Lely from his imitators and studio. Long after the death of its subjects the set can no longer be condemned by Pepys's observation: ''good; but not like.'' Like Reynolds Lely was said to find likeness elusive, but the monument is still in the painting itself, in which the variety of his colouring in these languid marriages of Van Dyck and Titian is at its most accomplished.

The contemporary silvering of the frame is a late Stuart fashion that harmonises particularly well here with the contrast of dress and background. This much is a lucky chance, as one frames of every kind silvering as an alternative to gilt was more common than in subsequent periods. The cool, almost severe effect of candlelight reflecting off silver against dark panelling would have been an aspect of the private royal interior now best preserved at the royal palaces such as Kensington and Hampton Court.
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