Royal portraits represent an important part of the history of painting. These portraits served as means of communication for the members of the monarchy. Through them, aristocratic society aimed to show their status, importance, wealth, and personalities. Royal portraits are also a testament to the power of the public image and propaganda. Additionally, they served as gifts exchanged between the monarchy members. Here are 15 exquisite royal portraits you should know about!
1. Royal Portrait Of Maria Antoinette By Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun
Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun was an official painter of the French queen Marie Antoinette. Vigée Le Brun’s father was a portraitist as well and he thought of her painting when she was little. The artist was one of the very few women admitted to Académie de St Luc.
After she became a portraitist of the queen, she was invited to join Académie Royale in 1783. During her career, she painted around 30 portraits of Marie Antoinette. Marie Antoinette became tied to the idea of a luxurious and lavish royal lifestyle at Versailles. She is often quoted as saying “Let them eat cake,” although there is no historical evidence that she had actually said that.
Marie Antoinette was beheaded during the French Revolution in 1793. Fearing the revolution, Marie Antoinette’s official painter Vigée Le Brun fled to Italy with her daughter.
2. Queen Victoria By Thomas Sully
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Queen Victoria came to the throne when she was eighteen years old in 1837 and she remained a queen for almost 64 years. Queen Victoria loved writing, drawing, and painting. She is also known for keeping a diary. After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861 Victoria only wore black. Their love story inspired many novels and films. During Victoria’s reign, the United Kingdom saw great progress in the fields of art and science.
This full-length portrait of her was painted by the American artist Thomas Sully after Victoria’s coronation. The queen is portrayed in a romantic way, youthful, looking over her should, wearing diamond jewelry and a crown.
3. Maria Of Yugoslavia By Paja Jovanovic
Maria of Yugoslavia was the Queen of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes from 1922 to 1934 during her marriage to King Alexander. Her mother was Marie of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the last queen of Romania whose grandmother was Queen Victoria. She was a big fan of automobiles and enjoyed driving long distances. In this royal portrait painted by Paja Jovanovic, Maria is shown fashionably dressed wearing a diadem. Jovanovic is one of the most famous Serbian painters who lived for almost 100 years. During his long career, he painted over 1000 paintings. He was widely known for his portraits.
4. Louis XIV By Hyacinthe Rigaud
Louis XIV was a French king famous for saying “I am the state.” Louis XIV became known as the Sun King who ruled by the divine right God had given him. In Hyacinthe Rigaud’s portrait from 1701, we see Louis XIV in full-length. The painting shows a royal portrait of an absolute monarch dressed in his coronation robe. The patterns of the robe show fleur-de-lis, a lily that symbolizes the French monarchy. The king is also shown with a sword next to his hip symbolizing his power. The portrait was first commissioned as a gift for Philip V of Spain, but Louis XIV decided to keep the original for himself.
5. Catherine II The Great By Fyodor Rokotov
Catherine II the Great was the Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796. She came to the throne after her husband Peter III of Russia was dethroned. She was a patron of the arts and contributed greatly to the cultural awakening in Russia. She supported the ideas of the Russian Age of Enlightenment. In her coronation portrait painted by Fyodor Rokotov in 1763, Catherine the Great is shown dressed in a regal silver dress with an ermine robe. Her hair is adorned with pearls. A year before painting this royal portrait Rokotov became their court painter.
6. Empress Elisabeth Of Austria By Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Empress Elisabeth of Austria also known as Sisi was quite an extraordinary character. She became an empress after she married Franz Joseph I of Austria at the age of sixteen. She loved nature, horseback riding, fashion, and poetry. She was known for her beauty and cared deeply about her appearance. Because of that she was often obsessively dieting and exercising. In this carbon print copy of the work painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, we see Sisi all dressed up in a beautiful gown, with starry jewels in her hair. She was assassinated in Geneva in 1898 by an Italian anarchist called Luigi Lucheni.
7. Carlos II By Claudio Coello
Carlos or Charles II, King of Spain was the last Habsburg who ruled Spain. This royal portrait was painted by Claudio Coello, a Spanish painter of the late Baroque, around 1680. Charles II was physically and mentally disabled. He is known to have had a Habsburg Jaw, a deformity that is linked to the inbreeding of the royal family. Because of his condition and the existing superstitions back in the day, he was thought to have been bewitched.
8. Madame De Pompadour By François Boucher
Madame de Pompadour was the mistress of King Louis XV of France. Because of her intelligence, she had an influential position at the royal court. She was also a patron of many artists. She created a number of etchings herself. Between the years 1750 and 1759 Boucher painted several portraits of her. This portrait from 1750 painted in Rococo style shows Madame de Pompadour dressed in a lavish dress with pink ribbons and lace details, with a cameo bracelet around her wrist that shows the face of her lover King Louis XV. In this painting, she is portrayed while powdering the rosy cheeks of her pale face.
9. Maria Theresia Of Austria By Anton Von Maron
Maria Theresia of Austria was one of the best-known Habsburgs. She ascended to the throne in 1740 at the age of 23. She had sixteen children – five sons and eleven daughters! One of her daughters was the future queen of France Marie Antoinette. During her reign, Maria Theresia remodeled the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, a popular tourist site today.
In Anton von Maron’s royal portrait she is shown dressed in black, mourning the sudden death of her husband Emperor Francis Stephen.
10. Franz II By Johann Zoffani
In this royal portrait by the German painter Johann Zoffani, we see Franz II as a child. Franz II became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1792. Right after ascending to the throne, he was faced with problems that the French Revolution had caused the monarchy. The globe and the books shown in the portrait are there to tell us about the future emperor’s good education that he received in Florence. In the upper right corner, you can also notice a bust of Marcus Aurelius. Franz II is also pictured wearing the Order of Saint Stephen around his neck.
11. Engraving After The Royal Portrait Of Louis XVI
Louis XVI was the grandson of Louis XV and the husband of Marie Antoinette. He ascended to the throne in 1774. The engraving by a French artist Charles Clement Balvay, also known as Bervic, is a reproduction of the royal portrait of Louis XVI painted by Antoine-Francois Callet. The French King is shown wearing a full royal costume. The first-ever French ambassador to the United States gifted a copy of the engraving to George Washington in 1791. Like his wife Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI was beheaded during the French Revolution in 1793.
12. Charles I At The Hunt By Anthony Van Dyck
One of the masterpieces from the Louvre museum is the portrait of Charles I at the Hunt. The portrait was done by the famous Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck who became the official royal painter of the English court. The painter was influenced by Peter Paul Rubens and is thought to have been his assistant between 1618 and 1620. The king is shown in an elegant but nonchalant manner, enjoying his pastime activities. He is however dressed more elegantly than a regular person would be if they went hunting. Since Charles I was insecure about his short height the painter positioned him so that we look up to the king. The king’s figure is also placed on the left brighter side of the painting so that he remains in our focus.
13. Jane Seymour By Hans Holbein
Jane Seymour was the third wife of Henry VIII. She was previously the lady in waiting to the king’s first two wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII and Jane Seymour married in 1536, just eleven days after Boleyn’s execution. She died due to complications during childbirth. She gave birth to an heir Henry VIII had longed for – the future King Edward VI. The author of this portrait is Hans Holbein, a German artist who became the official painter of the English court in 1536. Holbein painted the queen’s dress in fine detail with a particular accent given to the texture of the materials of her dress and jewelry.
14. Portrait Of Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I was the queen of England and Ireland from 1558 until her death in 1603. She was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. She was well educated and very intelligent. She was the last Tudor monarch. This painting by an unknown artist (perhaps a Flemish painter) is also known as the Darnley portrait. It is believed that this royal portrait was painted while the queen was in her forties. A crown placed behind her was later added to the portrait. The portrait is believed to have faded over time. The colors were probably richer at first and the queen’s complexion wasn’t as pale as it seems now.
In the bottom left corner of the painting, there is a pendant featuring figures of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, Venus, the goddess of love, and Jupiter, the equivalent to the Greek god Zeus. Figures of Cupid and Mars are also shown on the sides of the jewel.
15. Royal Portrait Of Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII. They got married in 1533 after the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, annulled Henry’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Boleyn was arrested and accused of committing adultery in 1536. She was executed in the Tower of London. The portrait from the National Portrait Gallery in London painted by an unknown artist is probably a reproduction of an original royal portrait of Boleyn since the images of the queen were mostly destroyed after she was murdered.