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Barbara Villiers was effectively Lely's muse, her looks the inspiration for his type of female beauty. A contemporary commented that 'he put something of Cleveland's face as her Languishing Eyes into every one Picture, so that all his pictures had an Air one of another, all the Eyes were Sleepy alike'. Lely himself is said to have commented 'that it was beyond the compass of art to give this lady her due, as to her sweetness and exquisite beauty'. Lely and Villiers had a mutually beneficial relationship, in which her prominence at court promoted his art and his art publicised her beauty and status. Probably dating from about 1664, the painting is a portrait historié, or a portrait showing a recognisable sitter posing in the role of a figure from history or mythology.
Barbara Palmer, née Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland with her son, Charles Fitzroy, as Madonna and Child
oil on canvas
H 124.7 x W 102 cm
Purchased with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, through the Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), Camelot Group plc, David and Catharine Alexander, David Wilson, E. A. Whitehead, Glyn Hopkin and numerous other supporters of a public appeal including members of the Chelsea Arts Club, 2005