Mobile menu

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, scientists, poets, writers and wits. As an avid theatregoer he also revived the playhouses, 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 and his courtiers. For Charles II paintings were not only for pleasure and decoration for his palaces; they were also an expression of power. The king exercised control over his image in portraits and commissioned paintings of his courtiers, depicted in flattering classical guises or in rich court dress. Queen Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of York and the king’s mistresses 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’.