Stuart beauties at Hampton Court

March 8 2012

Image of Stuart beauties at Hampton Court

Picture: Guardian/Royal Collection/National Portrait Gallery

Exciting news in The Guardian today about a forthcoming exhibition at Hampton Court, and not just because I live round the corner. The Wild, the Beautiful, and the Damned, which opens on 5th April, will look at the women of Charles II's famously salacious court. And happily, this means many fine portraits by Sir Peter Lely will be included, such as Frances Stuart (above left, Royal Collection) and Barbara Villiers (right, NPG). The latter's portrayal as the Virgin Mary holding one of the King's illegitimate children is still quite shocking, if you think about it.

From The Guardian:

The exhibition, the first at Hampton Court on the Stuart period after a decade spent on the Tudors and Henry VIII, is in the Queen's state apartments, which were created in the late 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren for Mary II.

"Beauty was a very thin line," the show's curator, Brett Dolman, said. "On one side, beauty is taken as a symbol of virtue and perfection, beauty could allow you to rise far beyond your original station in life. On the other, beauty is viewed with suspicion as a snare and one wrong step and your reputation is destroyed forever."

Also in the show will be Lely's full-length portrait of a naked Nell Gwyn, whose recent somewhat tragic auction history I have covered here before. From the Guardian article it sounds as if the picture will be exhibited unequivocally as Nell Gwyn - and this is further good news, for the sitter is undoubtedly Charles' most famous mistress. It was only the late Sir Oliver Millar's rather curious suggestion that the sitter might be Barbara Villiers that introduced any doubt on the identification.

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