Lionel Sackville, First Duke of Dorset is depicted wearing his state robes. Around his neck is a ‘collar’, which hangs across the shoulders and was made from gold knots alternated with enamelled roses, each rose surrounded by a blue garter. An enamelled, three-dimensional figure of St. George slaying the dragon, is suspended from this collar and together they indicate the Dukes’s membership of the Order of the Garter, the highest English order of chivalry. A hat decorated with some ostrich feathers rest on the table beside the Duke.
Identical garments and pose are seen in another work by the painter Godfrey Kneller: a portrait of King George II, when Prince of Wales, painted just three years earlier and now in the Royal Collection. A full-length version of the Duke, also by Kneller is at Knole near Sevenoaks, Kent. However, in the Knole version, the Duke holds the plumed hat in his right hand.
Dorset had first been painted by Kneller aged about seven, in a double portrait with his sister, Lady Mary, Duchess of Beaufort, also in the collection at Knole. The painting shows the children with a dog and a doe.
Godfrey Kneller was born in Lübeck, Germany. He moved to Amsterdam in 1662 to study painting under Rembrandt and Ferdinand Bol. He later trained with Gianlorenzo Bernini and Carlo Maratta in Rome. He returned to Lübeck in 1675, before moving to Hamburg and then to London to study the works of van Dyck. In England he received commissions from prominent figures, including Charles II. Charles sent Kneller to France in 1684, to paint the portrait of Louis XIV. Kneller maintained his position at court after the accession of James II in 1685 and, when William and Mary came to the throne, he and portraitist John Riley became joint Principal Painters to the Crown. Following Riley’s death, Kneller alone retained the position. He was 77 when he died.
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