About this artwork

The half-Stuart Dutch Stadholder William, Prince of Orange, married his cousin Princess Mary in 1677. The Protestant prince ousted his Catholic father-in-law James VII and II in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688, and he and his wife reigned as the only co-ruling monarchs of Great Britain and Ireland. This imposing portrait by Godfrey Kneller shows William with an imperial crown behind him. The crown was copied from an earlier Van Dyck portrait of William’s grandfather, Charles I, and underlines the Dutchman’s right to rule in Britain. Although he is wearing a fashionable wig, he is depicted as a Roman emperor. His lion-head belt refers to his hero Hercules, as well as to the lions in Stuart and Dutch heraldry.

Sir Godfrey Kneller

Sir Godfrey Kneller

Kneller was a German artist who trained in Amsterdam under Ferdinand Bol and Rembrandt. He came to London in 1674 and became the leading portrait painter in England during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. The output from his studio was enormous and included effectively everyone of importance from the reign of Charles II to George I. Kneller popularised the Kit-Cat format for portraits (36 x 28 inches), named after his portraits of the members of the famous Whig dining club. The founding governor of the first academy of art in England, his position as court and society painter was unrivalled. Kneller was Principal Painter from 1689, and in 1715 was created a baronet, a rank that was not surpassed by any artist for over a century.