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The beauty and symbolism of gold, from the Early Bronze Age to the 20th century

Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond (1648-1702) before 1662

Oil on canvas | 125.8 x 102.7 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 404514

Communication Gallery, Hampton Court Palace

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This picture forms one of the ‘Windsor Beauties’ series, a set of eleven portraits of celebrated women at the Restoration court painted by Sir Peter Lely. The series was apparently commissioned or at least assembled by Anne Hyde, Duchess of York, probably around 1662-5. Pepys recorded on 21 August 1668 that he ‘did first see the Duke of York’s room of pictures of some Maids of Honour, done by Lilly: good, but not like.’ By describing the pictures as ‘not like’ Pepys is alluding to the often noted opinion that Lely flattered his subjects, and gave each portrait a similar languorous and ‘sleepy eyed’ air, said to have been influenced by the features of the noted court beauty Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland (RCIN 404957) who was painted many times by Lely. Contrary to Pepys’s assertion, only Frances Teresa Stuart depicted here actually held the position of Maid of Honour in the Royal Household. Some of the others were noted courtesans, while others were respected members of the nobility.

In 1674, after the death of Anne Hyde, the pictures were hanging as a group in the White Room at Whitehall which was reported as being 'Hunge wth white sarsanett [sarcenet - a soft fabric, usually of silk], and over it blew Mohair with silk fringe'. Eleven pictures are mentioned in this inventory, although ten today are identified today as belonging to the group. The series was taken from Whitehall to Windsor, presumably by James II and hung in the Princess’s Dressing Room. In the reign of Queen Anne they were hung in the Queen’s Waiting Room and later in the Queen’s State Bedchamber, where this painting appears in Pyne's illustrated Royal Residences of 1819 (RCIN 922103). They were at Hampton Court by June 1835. All appear to be wholly by Lely’s own hand except Anne Digby, Countess of Sunderland (RCIN 404515) which is probably a studio copy.

Lely was appointed Principal Painter to Charles II in 1661 and this portrait is one of the earliest in the Windsor Beauties series, painted soon after that appointment. Frances Teresa Stuart was a Maid of Honour and later Lady of the Bedchamber to Catherine of Braganza, and was considered one of the greatest beauties at the Restoration court. Charles II was passionately devoted to her, pursuing her relentlessly without success - he was infuriated by her clandestine marriage in 1667 to Charles Stuart, 3rd Duke of Richmond. The bow in her left hand is perhaps a reference to Diana, the virgin goddess of hunting, an appropriate iconographical reference for the chaste Frances Stuart. The influence of Titian is apparent in the colouring and the treatment of the landscape.