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Dressed for Battle and the Hunt

William III (1650-1702) when Prince of Orange©

Clothing designed for warfare – either contemporary or historical – was a popular form of attire for monarchs and noblemen in English portraiture of the late-sixteenth and seventeenth century. It alluded to the sitter’s heroicism and bravery, while also seemingly transcending the specificity of fashionable clothing and so achieving a timeless portrayal, in much the same way that Lely used classicising drapery on his sitters.

Despite the apparent timelessness of armour in portraiture, there are close links between armour and fashionable dress. The shape of armour closely follows the prevailing silhouette of male clothing, and its surface decoration frequently imitates surface effects on fabric, such as slashing and embroidery. Hairstyles and fashionable accessories like lace collars worn with armour also tend to betray the era in which a portrait was painted.

Hunting was considered both vital preparation for times of war and a suitable sport for the leisured classes. A horse and its trappings was also an obvious symbol of status, contributing to the enduring popularity of the hunting portrait. It was a sport embraced by many monarchs, both male and female, during the Tudor and Stuart reigns and required specially constructed clothing. Although such garments could be more utilitarian than fashionable clothing they often shared many of the same features.

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