1 of 224 portraits of Oliver Cromwell
- Extended Catalogue Entry
by Robert Walker
oil on canvas, circa 1649
49 1/2 in. x 40 in. (1257 mm x 1016 mm)
Transferred from British Museum, 1879
Sitterback to top
- Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of England. Sitter associated with 224 portraits.
Artistback to top
- Robert Walker (1599-1658), Painter. Artist associated with 143 portraits, Sitter in 3 portraits.
This portraitback to top
Cromwell was a country gentleman who became a soldier, statesman and finally Lord Protector of Great Britain. As MP for Huntingdon and then Cambridge, he was an outspoken critic of Charles I and 'much hearkened unto'. His military skills and God-fearing tenacity were decisive factors in the Parliamentarian victory in the Civil War. Cromwell was prominent among those who first treated with, and then executed the king in 1649. This portrait is thought to date from that year and shows Cromwell wearing a type of armour which is unlikely to have been worn in battle but instead designed as a symbol of chivalric virtues. He holds a baton, the symbol of high military command.
Linked publicationsback to top
- 100 Portraits, p. 34
- Audio Guide
- Smartify image discovery app
- Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 21 Read entry
Cromwell, attended by a page and wearing archaic full armour, evokes chivalric associations.
- Cooper, John, Great Britons: The Great Debate, 2002, p. 59 Read entry
Cromwell's strength, conveyed by the baton of command, the armour and the attendant, rests on military and chivalric foundations.
- Cooper, John, Oliver the First: Contemporary Images of Oliver Cromwell, 1999, p. 21
- Foskett, Daphne, Samuel Cooper, 1974 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 15 March - 15 June 1974), p. 131
- Piper, David, Catalogue of Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, 1625-1714, 1963, p. 92
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 62
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 62 Read entry
This slightly dandified portrait of Oliver Cromwell, with a sash being tied round his waist, has an inscription on the back: 'This Original Picture of Oliver Cromwell. Presented by him to Nathaniel Rich Esqr. then serving under him as Colonel of a Regiment of Horse in the Parliament Army, was Bequeathed to the Trustees of the British Museum, for the Use of the Public.' As a portrait of the Parliamentarian leader painted around the time of the execution of Charles I, it is instriguing in suggesting a clear continuity in style with portraiture before the Civil War.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 155
- Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 57
- Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. xxvi
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 86 Read entry
Oliver Cromwell rose from the position of a country gentleman to become a leading statesman, soldier and finally head of state as Lord Protector (1653–8). His political and military career was shaped by strongly held religious beliefs. As a Puritan, he was distrustful of Charles I and felt that the Church of England was insufficiently Protestant. As the country descended into civil war, Cromwell emerged as a natural leader and his military skill was a decisive factor in the Parliamentarian victory. Following the execution of the King in 1649, he led the New Model Army in brutal campaigns in Ireland and Scotland. He refused the crown in 1657 and his death left a power vacuum that would only be filled by the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
This portrait was painted soon after the execution of the King at a time when the new regime was searching for appropriate forms of self-representation. The solution provided by Robert Walker (d.1658) was to base Cromwell’s portrait on elements taken from Anthony Van Dyck’s portraits of Charles I’s court. Cromwell’s armour, baton and the sash being tied around his waist by an attendant are all symbols of military command, borrowed from the regime that he has just overthrown.
Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top
- Hidden: An Unseen Portrait of Oliver Cromwell (10 July 2014 - 19 October 2014)
Events of 1649back to top
Current affairsCharged with subverting the nation's laws and liberties and cruelly making war against Parliament and the English people, Charles I is found guilty by a court of 159 commissioners, and beheaded outside the Banqueting House, Whitehall.
England is declared a commonwealth and power is entrusted to a Council of State.
Art and scienceEikon Basilike, a self-exonerating account of Charles I's rule, is published days after his death. Allegedly written by the king himself, John Gauden, Bishop of Worcester, claimed authorship after the Restoration. Other tributes followed the king's death giving rise to a royalist cult of Charles the Martyr.
InternationalOliver Cromwell, as lord lieutenant of Ireland, begins his campaign in Ireland to subdue royalist support, and leads English Parliamentarian forces against the Royalist-Confederate coalition. The campaign's bloody massacres, in particular, the Siege of Drogheda and Wexford where Cromwell's troops slaughtered soldiers and civilians alike, became notorious.
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