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Louise de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth with an unknown female attendant

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Louise de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth with an unknown female attendant

by Pierre Mignard
oil on canvas, 1682
47 1/2 in. x 37 1/2 in. (1207 mm x 953 mm)
Purchased, 1878
Primary Collection
NPG 497

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Pierre Mignard (1612-1695), Painter and portraitist. Artist or producer associated with 7 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The enslaved African child's identity is unknown and she may have been a fictitious character included in the composition only to further elevate the status of the duchess. The black child is shown presenting precious coral and pearls in a shell to the duchess to emphasise the wealth and social standing of her owner. Pearls have always been objects of desire due to their rarity and beauty, they may have been used here as a symbolic reference to sitter's beauty or her desire to be portrayed as beautiful.

The child's dark skin marks a stark contrast from the fairness of the duchess, the careful juxtapositioning of the sitters serves to further emphasise the whiteness of the duchess's complexion. Ideas on beauty and class prevalent in Europe at the time would have considered the palest complexions to be the most beautiful and an indicating factor of the person's class also. In the 17th and 18th Centuries both men and women resorted to artifice to make their complexions even whiter as a result.

The portrait was painted in Paris during a visit by the duchess in the first half of 1682.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 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. 109
  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 43
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 43 Read entry

    Light, bright and precise in contrast to the languid postures and suffused colour of English baroque portraits, this is a very French picture. The Duchess – Charles II’s ‘Catholic Whore’ according to her rival Nell Gwyn – poses with her black servant to enhance her fashionably pallid complexion. The portrait may be mythologizing her as the sea-nymph Thetis, an appropriate role for a Duchess of Portsmouth.

  • King, Reyahn; Sandhu, Sukhdev; Walvin, James; Girdham, Jane, Ignatius Sancho: An African Man of Letters, 1997, p. 81
  • Macleod, Catharine; Alexander, Julia Marciari, Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 11 October 2001 to 6 January 2002), p. 149
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 74
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 74 Read entry

    The Duchess of Portsmouth was one of Charles II's mistresses and was used as a diplomatic pawn by the French government. John Evelyn described her 'childish, simple and baby face' and her lavish apartments in Whitehall, which had 'ten times the richnesse & glory beyond the Queenes'. The Duchess is shown with her arm round the shoulder of a black page, and an inscription indicates that the portrait was painted by Pierre Mignard in Paris in 1682.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 502
  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 116
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 119

Placesback to top

Events of 1682back to top

Current affairs

Whig politician, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the case of high treason dropped against him, attempts to co-ordinate uprisings around the country over the exclusion crisis; he is ultimately forced to flee to the Netherlands.
Bideford Witch Trial condemns three women to death, the last to be hanged for witchcraft in England.

Art and science

Dramatist Thomas Otway's play, Venice Preserv'd, is first staged. Dedicated to the king's influential French mistress, Louise de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, it becomes one of the most popular Restoration plays.
Naturalist, John Ray, publishes Methodus plantarum nova, expounding his classification of plant species.


King of France, Louis XIV's determination to seize Spanish Luxembourg, and mobilization of French troops to the area, threatens the treaty of Nijmegen and security of the Dutch. Pressured by William of Orange and George Savile, Marquess of Halifax to take military action, the king opts for informal mediation.

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