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Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland with her son, Charles Fitzroy, as Madonna and Child

2 of 33 portraits of Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland

Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland with her son, Charles Fitzroy, as Madonna and Child, by Sir Peter Lely, circa 1664 - NPG 6725 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland with her son, Charles Fitzroy, as Madonna and Child

by Sir Peter Lely
oil on canvas, circa 1664
49 1/8 in. x 40 1/8 in. (1247 mm x 1020 mm)
Purchased with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, through the Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), Camelot Group plc, David and Catharine Alexander, David Wilson, E.A. Whitehead, Glyn Hopkin and numerous other supporters of a public appeal including members of the Chelsea Arts Club, 2005
Primary Collection
NPG 6725

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  • Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 832 portraits, Sitter in 18 portraits.

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Barbara Villiers was effectively Lely's muse, her looks the inspiration for his type of female beauty. A contemporary commented that 'he put something of Cleveland's face as her Languishing Eyes into every one Picture, so that all his pictures had an Air one of another, all the Eyes were Sleepy alike'. Lely himself is said to have commented 'that it was beyond the compass of art to give this lady her due, as to her sweetness and exquisite beauty'. Lely and Villiers had a mutually beneficial relationship, in which her prominence at court promoted his art and his art publicised her beauty and status. Probably dating from about 1664, the painting is a portrait historié, or a portrait showing a recognisable sitter posing in the role of a figure from history or mythology. This audacious portrait, of the King's mistress and bastard as the Madonna and Child, represents the climax of his work in this genre. It could only have been produced at this time and in this place; thus it can be seen as a fitting representation of the values of Charles II's court.

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