European Splendour 1500–1800
George Dawe, Portrait of Princess Charlotte of Wales, about 1817, oil on panel. Gift of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, 1936. Te Papa (1936-0012-92)
Portraits sent compelling messages about social rank, power, and wealth. Monarchs, nobles, politicians, and clergy were depicted in luxurious clothing, adorned with jewels and symbolic accessories.
An oil painting could declare a person’s splendour to a select audience, but from the early 1500s, print reproductions spread these influential images far more widely.
By the mid 1600s, the middle classes – and artists themselves – were becoming increasingly prosperous. In portraits, they flaunted their new wealth by wearing fine lace and furs.