LELY, Sir Peter
(b. 1618, Soest, d. 1680, London)

Henrietta Maria of France, Queen of England

Oil on canvas, 49 x 39 cm
Musée Condé, Chantilly

Portraiture, which was to become the single most brilliant achievement of English painting in the 18th century, was a field dominated in the 17th century by foreign artists who received many commissions from the royal court. The leading exponents of this period were van Dyck and Lely. This portrait of Henrietta Maria, Queen of England is an idealized portrait.

Henrietta Maria of France (1609-1669), the daughter of King Henry IV of France and Marie de Médici, was the Queen consort of England, Scotland and Ireland as the wife of King Charles I. She was mother of two kings, Charles II and James II and grandmother of two queens and one king, Mary II, William III and Anne of Great Britain as well as paternal aunt of Louis XIV of France. She had married Charles I in 1625, but soon fell out of favour with Parliament and the people because of her support for English Catholics. Later, she tried in vain and with great personal commitment, to help her husband. After the execution of Charles I in 1649, she settled in Paris. In 1660, when her oldest son succeeded to the throne as Charles II of Great Britain and Ireland, Henrietta Maria returned to England where she lived as Dowager Queen and Queen Mother until 1665 when she returned permanently to France. She died at the age of 59 at the château de Colombes, near Paris, marking the end of a turbulent life. She was buried in the French royal necropolis at the Basilica of St Denis.

Lely portrays her here as a beautiful and dignified woman in royal dress with an expression of suffering on her lips and a look of aloof mourning in her eyes. This is no longer a Baroque representative portrait, but tends far more in the direction of an individual interpretative portrayal. The nature of her life's journey is hidden by her reserved facial expression.