Oliver Cromwell

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Oliver Cromwell

after Samuel Cooper
oil on canvas, feigned oval, based on a work of 1656
29 3/4 in. x 24 3/4 in. (756 mm x 629 mm)
Purchased, 1879
Primary Collection
NPG 514

Sitterback to top

  • Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of England. Sitter associated with 224 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Samuel Cooper (1608?-1672), Miniature painter. Artist or producer associated with 111 portraits, Sitter in 4 portraits.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 128 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 careers were 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 Parliamentary victory over the Royalists. Following the execution of the king in 1649, he led the New Model Army in brutal campaigns in Ireland and Scotland. His death in 1658 left a power vacuum that would only be filled by the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

    Despite their differing political and religious beliefs, Cromwell and other Parliamentary soldiers and civilian supporters were depicted in portraiture in very similar ways to their Royalist enemies, sometimes even by the same artists. This portrait is based on an unfinished miniature by Samuel Cooper, who worked for both Royalist and Parliamentarian clients; he was a prominent portraitist during the Commonwealth and went on to work for Charles II after the Restoration. Many versions of this portrait exist, indicating a demand for images of the Lord Protector, whose role in many ways echoed that of monarch. Although he had refused the crown in 1657, Cromwell's funeral effigy was crowned as it lay in state.

  • Piper, David, Catalogue of Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, 1625-1714, 1963, p. 93
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 155

Events of 1656back to top

Current affairs

The Quaker, James Nayler, rides on horseback into Bristol in imitation of Christ entering Jerusalem. He is imprisoned for blasphemy.
Oliver Cromwell reluctantly calls a second Protectorate Parliament hoping a compliant parliament will raise money urgently required for the Anglo-Spanish War and maintenance of military government at home.

Art and science

Political theorist, James Harrington, publishes his influential magnus opus, The Commonwealth of Oceana, which advocates for a utopian republic.
Gardener and collector, John Tradescant the Younger, publishes England's first museum catalogue, Musaeum Tradescantianum, for his museum of rarities housed in his home, called 'The Ark'.


War with Spain officially declared. Admiral, Edward Montagu, Earl of Sandwich concludes a treaty with Portugal eagerly requiring support to free itself from Spain.
Admiral Robert Blake, keeping the fleet at sea throughout the winter to blockade Spain's coastline, enables Captain Richard Stayner to capture a Spanish plate fleet.

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