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In 1959, the Government Art Collection acquired a painting showing King William III as Solomon. A rather faint signature placed at the bottom left of the painting identified the artist: Jan van Orley, a 17th century painter and prolific tapestry designer from Brussels. A stencil on the stretcher suggested that this work featured in a Christie’s sale on 10 April 1953, with a different attribution.
I first had the opportunity to examine this three metre-high painting in November 2015, when it returned to the Collection from Hampton Court Palace, where it had been on loan for 25 years. Its viewing prompted me to address a number of questions in an attempt to shed more light on this painting and the context of its making: where did the idea of depicting William III in the guise of the biblical king Solomon come from? Could the king’s attendants be identified? When was this work painted and where was it originally displayed? How frequent were visual and textual references relating to Solomon during the reign of William III?
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