Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682) 1665c.

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682), Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
45 x 33 inches, 115 x 86 cm
Royal Hanoverian Collection
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This portrait of Prince Rupert derives from one of Lely’s most famous pictures, now in the Royal Collection at Windsor. The original was painted c. 1665, and it appears that Rupert only sat to Lely once.

Rupert was, however, one of Lely’s most popular portraits after the Resotration, thanks to his reputation as a cavalry commander during the Civil War, as well as his success in defeating the Dutch off Lowestoft in 1665. The pose seen here was copied on a number of occasions, and is probably the type seen by Pepys on his visit to Lely’s studio in April 1666. In this example, Lely has painted Rupert’s head, but has left the remainder to his studio assistants.

This portrait has until now been in the collection of the Hanoverian Royal family. It was most likely commissioned by the sitter to be sent to Germany, and it seems possible that Rupert’s occasionally restrained finances may have dictated the less expensive involvement of a studio assistant. It is, nevertheless, worth mentioning that Sir Oliver Millar, when commenting on the prime version at Windsor Castle, noted a “slight but obvious hiatus between the body and the head.” Lely’s portrayal of Rupert’s character and face, however, preserves perfectly the sardonic twist of the lips and the sitter’s sombre, even cold, expression.

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.

Rupert 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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