The Fabulous Peter Lely

Famous for the sensual portraits known as “The Windsor Beauties,” Lely was the leading portrait painter of the Restoration. He died on this day 30th November, 1680.

Sir Peter Lely by Sir Peter Lely, oil on canvas, circa 1660. NPG 3897. Photo: The National Portrait Gallery.

Lely, whose birth name was Pieter van der Faes, was born to Dutch parents in Germany, and he trained in art in Haarlem, back in the Dutch Republic.

He made portraits of some of the most influential people at the court of Charles II, including the Merry Monarch himself:

Though popular, Lely was still criticised for the striking similarities in the faces of his subjects (this has unfortunately led to some trouble in identifying who’s who in some of his paintings!).

Oh well.

Lely is undoubtedly best-known for his series of portraits now known as “The Windsor Beauties.” These portraits, of some of the most beautiful women at the court of King Charles II, were commissioned by Anne, Duchess of York, mother of future queens Mary II and Anne I. Anne, though not a beauty herself, was painted by the master himself:

Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, after Sir Peter Lely. NPG 241. Photo: The National Portrait Gallery, London.

One of the most infamous of the Windsor Beauties was none other than Barbara Palmer (nee Villiers) Countess Castlemaine, one of Charles II’s most influential, sexually insatiable, ambitious mistresses:

Barbara Villiers as Minerva. Photo: The London Magazine.

Among the famous beauties Lely painted was one Frances Stuart – also known as the model for Britannia! She was said to have been incredibly beautiful – so much so that Charles was desperate to take her as his mistress, but apparently Frances was not having it. She looks like Diana here, virgin and huntress, no doubt reinforcing her image of chastity?

This is just a small selection of Peter Lely’s work, but you can see why he was so popular!

For a slideshow of works attributed to Peter Lely, click here.

For the current Lely exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, click here and watch the promotion video below:

Articles such as, “Welcome to the pleasure dome: what Peter Lely did for us,” show how much  he is still in favour.

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