Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Jones Countess of Kildare (1665 - 1758) 1679c.

Studio of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Jones Countess of Kildare (1665 - 1758), Studio of Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
49¼ x 39¼ins 125.1 x 99.7cm
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This portrait is a lavish studio version of the Lely's portrait of the Countess in the collection of Tate Britain, painted in Lely''s characteristic manner of the later 1670s.

The Countess of Kildare was among the most famous of the beauties of the Caroline court, just as her father Richard Jones Earl of Ranelagh was among its most ambitious and acquisitive courtiers, described by Carte in his Life of the Duke of Ormonde (vol.IV p.501), as ''craving and greedy of money, yet at the same time profuse and lavish.''

Lady Kildare's father's ambitions were to come to fruition with his Irish earldom granted by King William III. His eldest daughter and co-heiress, Elizabeth, made a good match earlier in 1684 by her marriage to Ireland's premier peer, John Fitzgerald 18th Earl of Kildare. Although the prominent sprig of orange blossom that Lady Kildare is plucking in this painting may be taken as an allusion to that marriage, the earlier date of the portrait makes this unlikely. Orange blossom signifies eternal love in art, but it also alludes to youth and freshness, and by virtue of the great expense and difficulty with which it was grown in England in the seventeenth century, to great wealth. All of these connotations would have appealed to the Countess's father. Richard Jones was said to have spent more money on laying out gardens than any other nobleman in England, and the gardens of the house that he built adjoining Chelsea Hospital in 1690 were admired as much for their taste as for their profusion. Whether or not he commissioned Lely to paint his daughter is not known, but such advertisements were not out of character for him. In 1687 he commissioned Willem Wissing to paint his two remaining unmarried daughters Frances and Katherine on a yet more extravagant scale in an elaborate garden (Private Collection, formerly with Historical Portraits).

At this date the sitter's father must have had to content himself with Elizabeth Jones''s rumoured position as mistress to King Charles II. The Earl of Kildare married her June 12th 1684 at the Earl of Burlington's chapel in St Martin's in the Fields. As co-heiress she brought with her an impressive dowry, and the Earl gained £10,000 by the match. Although the Earl and Countess spent most time when they were not in London at their Oxfordshire house at Caversham – where they entertained Queen Mary of Modena on her way to Bath in 1687 – Kildare is described as ''keeping open house for all the Irish'' during a stay at Bruges in 1700. This lavish entertain clearly placed a strain on his finances, and in March 1704/5 he was obliged to seek an Act of Parliament for the sale of some of his estate. The Earl died at Caversham November 9th 1707; his wife lived well into the eighteenth century, dying aged 93 10th April 1758. She is buried in Westminster Abbey.
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