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Court society and portraiture

Charles II's court was a burst of life and colour after the sober Commonwealth years. The king surrounded himself with beautiful women, actors and writers and hosted masques, balls and great feasts at which the court would appear in their finest clothes and jewels. This magnificent world is captured in portraits of the king, his family, his mistresses and his courtiers, depicted in flattering classical guises or in rich court dress.

For Charles II paintings were not only for pleasure and decoration for his palaces, they were also an expression of power. Queen Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of York and the king's mistresses such as Barbara Villiers and Louise de Kéroualle, were also active patrons who fashioned their images through portraiture. The resurgence of artistic patronage emanating from the court earned Charles II the reputation of a ‘great encourager of arts’.