Sculptor Grinling Gibbons here wears a long wig and is draped in a length of fabric. His right hand rests on a cast of the head of Bernini’s 'Prospina' (Borghese Gallery, Rome) and he holds a pair of dividers in his left hand. Painter Godfrey Kneller is thought to have owned a cast of 'Prospina'. The original portrait in oil on canvas was formerly at Houghton House and is now in the Hermitage collection. Horace Walpole remarked that the portrait has ‘the freedom and nature of Vandyck’.
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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