The infant Princess Isabella, second daughter of James, Duke of York (later King James II), is depicted nude, but for blue drapery over one leg and a crown of roses. She sits within a landscape, with her hands on the head of a lamb. This is a copy after the original version, which remains in the Royal Collection and was painted the year after Isabella was born. The pose may be borrowed from a red chalk drawing, owned by Lely, by 16th-century Italian artist Parmigianino. Parmigianino's work similarly shows the infant St John the Baptist with a lamb.
Numerous versions of this portrait of Isabella have passed through the sale rooms and there are examples at Drayton Manor, Staffordshire, and Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire. A mezzotint after the work was engraved by Alexander Browne (active 1660-83). The print shows a rectangular composition, similar to this painting, and it is thought that the original in the Royal Collection, which is virtually square in format, has been reduced. The numerous versions and the mezzotint engraving together suggest that this was a popular picture. Many of the versions are likely to have been painted after Isabella’s death (when she was just four), as memorial images.
Peter Lely was born in Westphalia in Germany. He studied in Haarlem under Pieter de Grebber, becoming a Master of the Haarlem Guild in 1637. He relocated to England in 1641, where he succeeded Sir Antony Van Dyck as Principal Painter to Charles II. Lely presided over a large studio and employed several assistants. He frequently painted only the head of the sitter himself, before passing the work to an assistant to complete. The work of his assistants is often mistakenly attributed to Lely himself. He was knighted in 1680, shortly before his death that year. At the time of his death, over 100 canvases remained in his studio, many copies executed by assistants. His assistants also produced independent work in the style of their master.
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