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The Politics of Portraiture: Oliver Cromwell and the Plain Style*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Laura Lunger Knoppers*
Pennsylvania State University


Long dismissed as aping monarchical forms, Cromwellian portraiture has been neglected by art historians, historians, and literary critics alike. But rather than simply mimicking monarchical iconography, Cromwellian portraiture reflected the character — and contradictions — of Cromwell's own plain style. Paintings by Robert Walker, Samuel Cooper, and Peter Lely all drew upon and significantly revised courtly and idealized Van Dyck portraiture. During the protectorate, Cromwellian portraiture became less, not more, courtly, and the final portrait of Cromwell by Edward Mascall was the most puritan and plain style of all. Visual satire on Cromwell after 1660 attested to the ongoing influence of the plain style as an alternative mode of piety and of power.

Copyright © Renaissance Society of America 1998

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Research for this essay was funded by a fellowship from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Evangelical Scholars Program. I want to thank Thomas Corns for his invitation to present an early version of this essay at the University of Wales, Bangor, and Amy Gohlany and Don-John Dugas for their perceptive comments on written drafts.


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