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Court painter

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Court painter

Las Meninas, Diego Velázquez, 1656, shows a princess watching her unseen parents as Velázquez paints them; the cross on his chest was added later, according to legend painted by the king himself, after the artist received the Order of Santiago in 1659 (click on image and run cursor over to identify figures).

A court painter was an artist who painted for the members of a royal or noble family, sometimes on a fixed salary and on an exclusive basis where the artist was not supposed to undertake other work. Especially in the late Middle Ages, they were often given the office of valet de chambre. Usually they were given a salary and formal title, and often a pension for life, though arrangements were very variable. For the artist, a court appointment had the advantage of freeing them from the restriction of local painters' guilds, although in the Middle Ages and Renaissance they also often had to spend large amounts of time doing decorative work about the palace, and creating temporary works for court entertainments and displays. In England the role of Serjeant Painter was set up for this, leaving the "King's painter" (and the queen's) free to paint mostly portraits. See category of Italian art collectors for lists that included non-aristocratic patrons. Some artists, like Jan van Eyck or Diego Velázquez, were used in other capacities at court, as diplomats functionaries, or administrators.

In Islamic cultures, especially between the 14th and 17th centuries, similar arrangements operated for miniaturists and artists in other media. In the Persian miniature, the shah and other rulers typically maintained a "court workshop" or "atelier", of calligraphers, miniaturists, binders and other crafts, usually managed by the royal librarian. More than in the West, the courts were the essential patrons of large-scale commissions, and political changes, or changes in personal tastes, could have a significant effect on the development of a style. The name by which Riza Abbasi is usually known includes the honorific title "Abbasi", which he and others were given by Shah Abbas I of Persia to associate them with their patron. Abd as-Samad, a Persian painter who moved to the Mughal Empire, was given a number of significant administrative jobs, as indeed was his artist son. The court remained the focus of patronage of painting in the "sub-Mughal" princely courts of India, whether Muslim or Hindu.

At many periods rulers owned or controlled royal workshops or factories making high-quality tapestries, porcelain or pottery, silks and other types of object. This was especially the case in China and in the Byzantine Empire. Often court artists worked on the designs for these products; for example the finest carpets of Persia, Ottoman Turkey and Mughal India reflect very closely developments in style found in other media such as Ottoman illumination, and it is usually assumed that designs were sent to the weavers from the court. The same process can be better documented in 17th century France, where the court painter Charles Le Brun was director of the royal Gobelins Manufactory, then producing far more than just tapestries, and also designed the royal commissions from the private Savonnerie manufactory of carpets. Le Brun dominated, and largely created, the style found throughout Louis XIV's palaces, which was then hugely influential in France and throughout Europe.

By the 20th century court painters was an obsolete position. Commonly more artists were granted permission by royalty who would sit for official portraits whether for private of patron purposes.

Incomplete list of court painters (A-Z)

Painter Nationality Court
Miguel António do Amaral Portuguese Joseph I of Portugal
Maria I of Portugal
Joseph, Prince of Brazil
Jacopo Amigoni Italian Ferdinand VI of Spain
Friedrich von Amerling Austrian Franz Joseph I of Austria
Ferdinand Bauer Austrian Prince of Liechtenstein
Wu Bin Chinese Ming Dynasty
Bishandas Indian Jahangir
Francis Bourgeois English George III of the United Kingdom
Agnolo di Cosimo Italian Medici
Giovanni Maria delle Piane Italian Elizabeth Farnese
Claude Deruet French Charles V, Duke of Lorraine
Jean-Baptiste Debret French John VI of Portugal
Pedro IV and I of Portugal and Brazil
Jacques d'Agar French Christian V of Denmark
Dosso Dossi Italian Alphonso I of Ferrara
Ercole II d'Este
Hans Dürer German Sigismund I of Poland
Anthony van Dyck Flemish Charles I of England
David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl Swedish Charles XI of Sweden
Jan van Eyck Flemish Philip of Charolais
Domenico Fetti Italian Gonzaga
Jean Fouquet French Louis XI of France
Nuno Gonçalves Portuguese Afonso V of Portugal
Saint Princess Joan of Aviz
Francisco Goya Spanish Charles III of Spain
Charles IV of Spain
Ferdinand VII of Spain
Carl Haag Anglo-German Queen Victoria
Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
George Hayter English Queen Victoria
Hans Holbein the Younger German Henry VIII of England
Hyewon Korean Joseon Dynasty
Jens Juel Danish Christian VII of Denmark
Cristóvão de Morais Portuguese John III of Portugal
João Manuel, Prince of Portugal
Sebastian I of Portugal
Abdulcelil Levni Turkish Mustafa II
Ahmed III
Louis-Michel van Loo French Philip V of Spain
Vieira Lusitano Portuguese Joseph I of Portugal
Maria I of Portugal
Andrea Mantegna Italian Mantua
Tosa Mitsuoki Japanese Edo
Uemura Shōen Japanese Emperor Shōwa
Bernard van Orley Flemish Margaret of Austria
Maria of Austria
Francesco Raibolini Italian Mantua
Peter Paul Rubens Flemish Vincenzo I of Gonzaga
Philip IV of Spain
Rachel Ruysch Dutch Johann Wilhelm, Elector Palatine
Lucienne de Saint-Mart French Nicholas II of Russia
Alonso Sánchez Coello Spanish
John III of Portugal
João Manuel, Prince of Portugal
Philip II of Spain
Sebastian I of Portugal
Louis de Silvestre French King Augustus II of Poland
Augustus III of Poland
Domingos Sequeira Portuguese John VI of Portugal
Pieter Snayers Flemish Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand
Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria
Dirk Stoop Dutch John IV of Portugal
Catherine of Braganza
Charles II of England
Titian Italian Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Philip II of Spain
Giuseppe Troni Italian Maria I of Portugal
John VI of Portugal
Diego Velázquez Spanish Philip IV of Spain
Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen Dutch Margaret of Austria
Zhang Zeduan Chinese Northern Song Dynasty
Sofonisba Anguissola Italian Philip II of Spain
Matthias Grünewald German Isenheim Altarpiece

See also


  • Michael Levey, Painting at Court, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1971
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