Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King William III (1650-1702) when Prince of Orange c.1675 1675c.

Caspar Netscher 

Portrait of King William III (1650-1702) when Prince of Orange c.1675, Caspar Netscher
Oil and Canvas
17th Century
14/ ľ x 11 ľ inches 36.2 x 28.7 cm
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Signed C. Netscher 167(?) This small-scale portrait is entirely characteristic of the works that Caspar Netscher had begun to produce in the early 1670s, after an early career devoted more to the production of genre pieces in the manner of Gerrit Dou. By this date he had achieved prominence at the court at The Hague, and was a member of that group of portraitists, such as Adriaen Hanneman, Jan Mijtens and Jan de Baen who practised an elegant, though far less spirited version of Van Dyckís court style. Unlike those painters, however, the scale in Netscherís works is consistently diminutive as here, and the portraits are marked by a loving attention to rich and luminous costume -for which treatment the Garter robes that William wears here are perfectly suited- and a delicacy that expresses detail without losing the vigour of oil painting. The sitter is glimpsed through an architectural oval, which acts here both conventionally as a window to frame and distance the sitter and as a substitute for the elaborate garden architecture that Netscher often depicts in the backgrounds of his larger paintings.

At the date of this portrait, William of Orange was beginning to emerge as a force of consequence in the politics of the Netherlands. During his minority -as the heir of the Stadholder William II- he was a possession of some consequence to the various faction leaders who sought to control him and be his guardian. By 1672, however, he had been appointed as Captain General of the forces of the United Provinces against a feared French invasion.

It is at this point that William emerges in the role that he kept for himself until his death in 1702, that of the champion of protestantism on the Continent, and the chief foe and thorn in the side of Louis XIV. Williamís victories against the French in the summer of 1672 were enough to persuade his countrymen to lay aside their suspicion of the hereditary principal and declare him Stadholder William III, in apparent succession to his father. It is unlikely, however, that this portrait was commissioned to celebrate these particular triumphs, since the Prince has been shown wearing the robes of the Order of the Garter, to which he had been appointed in 1661. This would be a costume of particular resonance to an English audience, and it is likely that the execution of this small painting is connected with the English marriage negotiations, in which William was pledged to marry Princess Mary of York

It was this marriage, of course, which brought William more directly into the realm of British politics, and after the accession of his father-in-law and uncle James II he played a difficult game with some tact and skill. During the uprising of the Duke of Monmouth he sent James the three Scottish regiments that were in service in the Netherlands, and this and his (declined) offer to command them personally did much to avert Jamesís suspicions of William. Events proved otherwise, however, and in 1688 William responded to the entreaties of Protestant courtiers in England, which resulted in the abdication of James II and by 1689 the establishment of the dual monarchy, in which Parliament was persuaded to declare William to be king alongside his wife, whose was, of course, the nearer claim.
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