This work was most likely to have been painted by the studio of Peter Lely in the 1670s. It seems there is no known other version of this portrait although a similar one can be seen by Samuel Cooper (1608-1672). The portrait shows James when he was the Duke of York. This type of portrait, featuring James with his head to one side in wig and necktie, effectively became James’ official image with it being engraved by Robert White.
The treatment recalls work of the 1670s by the royal painter Sir Peter Lely, but the handling is individual and represents the work of an as-yet unidentified personality most probably trained in Lely’s studio.
There was a great demand for portraits of the Duke of York and there were sixteen copies in Lely’s studio inventory at the time of his death. Due to this demand in some instances Lely would have completed the head and overseen the completion of the rest by one of his studio assistants.
The second son of Charles I, and brother of Charles II, James was named Duke of York at birth. He became a successful naval commander during the reign of his brother and acceded to the throne in 1685. James had been secretly received into the Roman Catholic church in 1670; his obvious sympathy for Catholicism was increasingly evident by the time of his accession, leading to widespread distrust among his subjects and a rebellion only three years into his reign. From December 1688 he spent most of the rest of his life in exile in France. Never again would a British monarch enjoy the powers that James had.
Sir Peter Lely
Lely was born in Soest, Germany, of Dutch parents. In 1637 he was registered as a pupil of Pieter de Grebber in his father’s home town of Haarlem. He came to London in about 1643, and in 1647 painted the children of Charles I, in custody during the Civil War. By the end of the Commonwealth, he was the best-known portrait painter in England and, after the restoration of Charles II, he was appointed Principal Painter to the king in 1661.
His society beauties are heavy-lidded and sensuous whilst his portraits of Admirals (National Maritime Museum) show a more serious side to his art. The output of his studio was huge, Lely relied heavily on assistants. He was knighted the year of his death.