Sir Peter Lely and the Windsor Beauties





The English Stuart king Charles II (1630-1685) had an eye for the ladies as well as being a prolific squanderer of public money. It is depressing to think that England abandoned its republic for a wastrel who had scant regard for parliament and who even cynically betrayed his own people's safety by accepting an allowance from Louis XIV of France in exchange for his non-interference in Europe.


Among the idle king's many mistresses were Barbara Villiers, also known as Lady Castlemaine; and the stage actress Nell Gwynn. The picture above by Sir Peter Lely is of Nell Gwynn, though there is an alternative belief that it depicts Lady Castlemaine.


Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680) was a Dutch-born artist who became a leading painter of the English court following the death of Sir Anthony van Dyck. He was portrait artist to Charles I, and he painted Oliver Cromwell when he was Lord Protector. In 1661 he was appointed Principle Painter in Ordinary to Charles II.


Among Lely's works were ten portraits of ladies of the court, the so-called Windsor Beauties, named after the medieval Windsor Castle, parts of which were rebuilt by Charles II. The paintings were later moved to Hampton Court Palace where they are currently on display in an exhibition entitled The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned. The exhibition runs until 30 September 2012.

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