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James, Duke of York, later James II

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    England (painted)

  • Date:

    1660-1661 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cooper, Samuel (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on vellum put down on a leaf from a table-book in a gilded frame

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with Art Fund support

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Portrait Miniatures, Room 90a, The International Music and Art Foundation Gallery, case 6

The word ‘miniature’ describes a technique of painting in watercolour rather than the size of a painting. Miniature painting developed as a separate art in the 16th century and in Britain it became predominantly a portrait art.

Samuel Cooper had first set up established his independent miniature practice in London in 1642, the year that civil war broke out and King Charles I abandoned London for the safety of York. Cooper was not untouched personally by the years of war leading to the execution of Charles I in 1649. The poet Alexander Pope, the nephew of Cooper’s wife Christina, wrote that she ‘had three Brothers, one of whom was kill’d, another died in the service of King Charles’. Professionally, however, Cooper flourished, and during the Commonwealth period he was employed by Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. At the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 Cooper’s reputation as the foremost artist in England secured him the patronage of the returned royal family, to which he responded with an enriched style. His flesh painting became more full bodied, noticeably so to contemporaries such as Samuel Pepys, who thought ‘the colouring of the flesh to be a little forced’.

Today, albeit with fading, this portrait of the Duke of York does not seem unnaturally sanguine. Overall the effect is less austere than Cooper’s style during the Commonwealth period, the lighting less dramatic and so the relief of the sitter’s features is less marked. Its softer, lighter style, however, does not lessen the dignity and presence of the sitter. The Duke particularly retains a serious reserve appropriate for the second son of the ‘martyred’ Charles I.

Physical description

Portrait, half-length, to right and looking to front. Features firmly hatched in brown and sanguine, with some blue-grey and some white heightening blended over a thick warm carnation ground; hair in pale brown wash, hatched in darker brown with some opaque lights; sleeves in ochre wash with touches of silver and gold; collar in white over grey wash; armour washed and hatched in grey with white lights; the Garter ribbon in blue hatched in darker colour; background a grey wash, blending with sky and clouds in washes of blue and grey gouache to right; on vellum put down on a leaf from a table-book.

Place of Origin

England (painted)


1660-1661 (painted)


Cooper, Samuel (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on vellum put down on a leaf from a table-book in a gilded frame

Marks and inscriptions

'SC [interlaced] [16]61.'
Signed in gold, centre left


Height: 80 mm, Width: 64 mm

Object history note

Provenance: Richard Graham, at whose sale 6 March 1711/ 12, lot 51, bt James Seamer on behalf of James Sotheby; by descent among the Sotheby heirlooms at Ecton Hall; Sotheby's 11 October 1955, lot 44, bt Becker on behalf of the Museum.

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of James, Duke of York, watercolour on vellum, painted by Samuel Cooper, 1660-1661.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Murdoch, John. Seventeenth-century English Miniatures in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: The Stationery Office, 1997.


Watercolour; Vellum



Subjects depicted



Portraits; Paintings; Royalty

Production Type



Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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