Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland (1640 – 1709)
Sir Peter Lely (Soest 1618 – London 1680)
Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland, was the subject of many portraits by Peter Lely. In this full-length version, she is resplendent in a silver-grey satin dress with a blue cloak. After becoming Charles II's principal mistress, Villiers developed a reputation for being ruthlessly ambitious, extravagant and promiscuous. Despite her notoriety, her beauty was widely admired, even by her critics. In addition to showcasing her physical looks, Lely's portrait highlights Villiers as a dominant and influential figure in the newly restored monarchy of Charles II.
Oil painting on canvas, Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland (1640-1709), by Sir Peter Lely (Soest 1618 – London 1680), circa 1662. A full-length portrait, seated, of the Duchess of Cleveland, facing the viewer, with her head resting on her right hand. She wears a silver-grey satin décolleté dress, with a blue cloak which she holds on her lap with her left hand.
Recorded in the 1706 inventory as a whole length of "Dutchess Cleveland", in the “Lester Gallery”; recorded in the 1799 inventory as “Dutchess of Cleveland 4 Lely”, in the Drawing Room next the Cartoon Gallery; recorded in the 1828 inventory (No.437); purchased by the National Trust from the Sackville family in 1988 with the aid of the National Heritage Memorial Fund.
Knole, The Sackville Collection (acquired with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund and transferred to the National Trust in 1988)
Marks and inscriptions
Bottom right, in yellow: BARBARA DUTCHES OF / CLEVELAND DAUGHTER TO / WILLIAM VILLIERS VISCOUNT / GRANDISON
Makers and roles
Sir Peter Lely (Soest 1618 – London 1680), artist
Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution (Ed. Margarette Lincoln), National Maritime Museum, 20th November 2015 - 28th March 2016, cat. 48, p. 117