The original portrait on which this engraving is based is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. It was painted in 1711, the last year in the life of the sitter, lawyer and politician John Somers. At that time, Somers’ health was rapidly declining. He is depicted holding a first edition of poet Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, published in 1715 and dedicated to him. This is the Kit-Cat Club portrait of Somers; one of a series of portraits of members of the Kit-Cat Club commissioned from portraitist Godfrey Kneller. The portraits hung together at the Club’s meeting place at Barn Elms; a Georgian manor house in Barnes, London. Other portraits of Somer, painted by Kneller, are that of c.1690 at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire (constructed by the first Earl Somers, a descendant of the sitter) and another of c.1700-10 at Knole House in Kent.
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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