Lot 18
  • 18

SIR PETER LELY Double portrait of Henry Hyde, Viscount Cornbury, later 2nd Earl of Clarendon (1688–1709) and his wife, Theodosia Capel, Viscountess Cornbury

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
730,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Double portrait of Henry Hyde, Viscount Cornbury, later 2nd Earl of Clarendon (1688–1709) and his wife, Theodosia Capel, Viscountess Cornbury
  • signed with initials on the base of the sculpture: PL (in monogram)
  • oil on canvas, held in a magnificent early eighteenth-century carved wood frame
  • 143 x 181.5 cm.; 56 1/4  x 71 1/2  in.


Commissioned by Viscount Cornbury or his father, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609–1674) to celebrate Lord Cornbury's marriage to Theodosia Capel in 1661 and recorded at Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire, circa 1683;

Purchased by the sitter's brother, Laurence Hyde, 1st Earl of Rochester (1642–1711), together with Cornbury Park and all its contents in 1697;

By descent at Cornbury to his son, Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Rochester and later 4th Earl of Clarendon (1672–1753);

By transfer to his son, Henry, Viscount Cornbury (1710–1753) in 1749, who died without issue;

By inheritance to his niece, Lady Charlotte Capel (1721–1790), who married Thomas Villiers, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1709–1786) of the second creation, and transferred to The Grove, Hertfordshire;

Thence by direct descent to the present owner.


London, British Institution, 1861, no. 175;

London, South Kensington Museum, National Portraits Exhibition, 1866, no. 900;

London, Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition, 1906;

London, Royal Academy, The Age of Charles II, 1960, no. 83;

London, Tate Gallery, The Swagger Portrait, Grand Manner Portraiture in Britian from Van Dyck to Augustus John 1630-1930, 14 October 1992 – 10 January 1993, no. 10;

Plymouth, long term loan to Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.


Clarendon State Papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford, Bodleian MS Clarendon 92, ff. 253–54, no. 8, recorded at Cornbury Park, circa 1683: 'Over ye Chilmly, My Lord Clarendon wth his Lady';

George Vertue's notebook, A.g., 1725, British Museum Add. MS 23,070 [V. 66b, B.M. 57b] (as hanging at Cornbury Park, 1725);

Sir W. Musgrave, List of Portraits, BM Add. MS 6391, f. 77, no. 34 (hanging at The Grove in 1764);

G. P. Harding, List of Portraits, Pictures in Various mansions in the United Kingdom, MS in NPG, London, 1804, vol. II, p. 210;

J. Orchard, Inventory of Sundry Furniture and Effects at The Grove Hertfordshire the Property of the-Rt-Honble-the-Earl-of-Clarendon, March 1824, Clarendon MS, n.p. (listed hanging among the pictures hanging in the Dining Room at The Grove - Lord and Lady Cornbury, Lely).

Lady T. Lewis, Lives of the friends and contemporaries of Lord Chancellor Clarendon: Illustrative of portraits in his Gallery, 3 vols, London 1852, vol. III, pp. 257 and 377–79, cat. no. 67;

C.H. Collins Baker, Lely and the Stuart Portrait Painters, 2 vols., London 1912, vol. I, p. 166, reproduced facing p. 164 and vol. II, pp. 125 and 162–63 (recorded as hanging at The Grove);

P. Toynbee, 'Horace Walpole's journals of visits to country seats, &c', in The Walpole Society, vol. XVI, Oxford 1927, p. 38 (listed at The Grove in 1761);

'Vertue Note Books, volume II', in The Walpole Society, vol. XX, Oxford 1932, p. 65 (where Vertue records the picture hanging at Cornbury House in 1725);

R.W. Goulding, Catalogue of the Pictures belonging to His Grace the Duke of Portland, Cambridge 1936, pp. 134–35;

R.B. Beckett, Lely, London 1951, p. 41, no. 122, reproduced, pl. 76;

O. Millar, The Tudor, Stuart and early Georgian pictures in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen, 2 vols, London 1963, text vol., p. 117 (under entry for cat. no. 217);

R. Gibson, Catalogue of portraits in the collection of the Earl of Clarendon, privately published, London 1977, pp. 31–32, cat. no. 30 and Appendix I, p. 138; 

A. Wilton, The Swagger Portrait, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1992, pp. 82–83, cat. no. 10, reproduced in colour.

Catalogue Note

Painted to celebrate the marriage of Lord Cornbury – the eldest son of Lely’s most important patron, Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609–1674), Chief Minister to King Charles II – and Theodosia Capel in 1661, this bravura double portrait is the greatest and most sophisticated conversation piece the artist ever produced. Part of the celebrated Clarendon Gallery collection, it is one of the finest Lelys left in private hands. Indeed it is one of the finest baroque double portraits by any artist to have been painted in England, testament to which was its inclusion, as the only such painting from the seventeenth century, in the seminal exhibition – The Swagger Portrait – at the Tate Gallery in 1992–93.

The eldest son of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609–1674) and his second wife Frances Aylesbury, daughter of the Master of the Mint, Sir Thomas Aylesbury, 1st Bt (1676–1657), Lord Cornbury was private secretary and Lord Chamberlain to Queen Catherine, wife of King Charles II. Through his sister, Ann Hyde, he was also the brother-in-law of James, Duke of York, later King James II and the uncle of two British monarchs: Queen Mary II and Queen Anne. In January 1661 he married Theodosia, daughter of Arthur Capel, 1st Baron Capel (1608–1649), a celebrated beauty, and this magnificent double portrait was commissioned to celebrate their union. Whilst Lord Cornbury gestures towards his new young bride, making specific reference to their relationship, Lady Cornbury reaches up to pick at the orange blossom growing beside her – a flower that has been associated with marriage since antiquity, as a symbol of purity, chastity, innocence, and fertility. The subtle contrapposto of the couples’ poses mirror one another, creating a delicate sense of harmony and unity within the painting – the husband’s self-referential hand gesture matched by the slight incline of his wife’s head, her resting arm matched by the sweep of his gesticulating hand – each a subtle counterpoint to the other, brilliantly reinforcing the rhetorical force of the picture. Between the couple, partially obscured by a draped red curtain, stands a statue of Cupid – a symbol of romantic love – further strengthening the allusion to their recent marriage.

The composition is exceptionally sophisticated and, as Andrew Wilton noted in his catalogue to the Swagger Portrait exhibition, either figure would be amply self-sufficient in elegance and rhythm on their own.1 Whilst many of Lely’s double portraits are crowded into the picture-space, allowing little latitude for the expansiveness of mood found in this picture, here the artist has excelled himself, with the roomier design allowing for the development of each figure both individually and in relation to each other, seemingly both engaged in separate dialogues with the spectator whilst at the same time intimately bound in a visual relationship of their own. The half-length double portrait is a format that was popularised in the Low Countries in the early seventeenth century and much used by Van Dyck, who brought the tradition with him from the continent and adapted it with creative enthusiasm, developing it into perhaps the most ‘English’ of his formulas. Reynolds was later to adopt it in the eighteenth century and pass it on as a staple device to Lawrence, with whom the tradition ends in England, given up in favour of the more flamboyant full-length double portraits favoured by Sargent and the family conversation piece proper in the era of the Grand Manner. It can be strongly claimed, however, that it reached its pinnacle in Lely’s virtuoso portrait of Lord and Lady Cornbury.

As the son of a leading royalist statesman, Cornbury spent much of early life in exile abroad, during the Commonwealth, and he was brought up primarily in Antwerp and Breda by his mother. His father trained him in the use of cipher from an early age and for many years he operated as his confidential secretary, secretly communicating with other royalist sympathisers disseminated across Europe. He continued in this role after 1660 when the family returned to England and his father, who had done much to secure the Restoration of the Monarchy, was appointed chief minister under the new King Charles II. Young, handsome and well regarded for his discretion, Clarendon was ‘much in the Queen’s favour’ and in 1662 he became Catherine of Braganza’s private secretary and in 1665 was appointed her Lord Chamberlain.2 He served in the Convention parliament, representing the borough of Lyme Regis, and at the elections for the Cavalier Parliament he became Knight of the Shire for the county of Wiltshire, a seat which he held until 1674, when he succeeded his father as 2nd Earl of Clarendon. In 1660 his sister, Ann Hyde, had married James, Duke of York. Though she died in 1671, when James became King in 1685 he chose his brother-in-law, now Earl of Clarendon, as his Lord Privy Seal and a few months later appointed him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

If the symbolism within the painting were not enough, the picture could be accurately dated by the fact that Theodosia tragically died of smallpox in March 1662, only fourteen months after their wedding. Shortly before her death she gave birth to a son, Edward Hyde, later 3rd Earl of Clarendon (1661–1723). He would later become famous, when, in 1688, as Lord Cornbury, he and part of his army defected from his uncle by marriage, the Catholic King James II, to join forces with Prince William of Orange, thus triggering the bloodless handover of power that was the Glorious Revolution – as a reward for which he was appointed Governor of New York and New Jersey in 1701.  

The Clarendon Gallery

'I dined with my Lord Cornbury at Clarendon House now bravely furnished, especially with the pictures of most of our ancient and modern wits, poets, philosophers, famous and learned Englishmen.'

Extract from the diary of John Evelyn, 20 December 1668

This magnificent portrait is part of the celebrated Clarendon Gallery collection, formed by the sitter’s father, which was formerly housed at Clarendon House in London and Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire. Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon was one of the most significant political figures of his generation and a leading royalist statesman. Charles II’s chief minister and Lord Chancellor between 1658 and 1667, he was relied upon by the King in all matters of State and established a position of significant influence and authority in the early years after the Restoration. In addition to this he was a substantial patron of the arts. In 1664 he commissioned Roger Pratt, the architect of Kingston Lacey and a friend of John Evelyn, to build Clarendon House, in Piccadilly – one of the first great classical houses in London and one of the grandest in England – to house his celebrated library and picture gallery. Clarendon himself, in his autobiographical Life, stated that his early interest in assembling a collection of paintings was in ‘polite learning and history’ and as a noted antiquarian the impetus was to assemble a collection of portraits of both celebrated historical figures and famous contemporaries whom he had known and who had played a significant role in the turbulent years of the ‘Grand Rebellion’.3 Such a collection as Clarendon’s had a distinguished precedent. In the early sixteenth century the celebrated Italian cleric and historian Paolo Giovio had assembled a gallery of portraits of famous men in his villa on Lake Como, and the idea had been taken up by Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, for his gallery in the Uffizi.4 Many English Elizabethan and Jacobean homes had displayed sets of portraits of early Kings and Queens, along with series of dynastic family portraits, in their galleries but the idea of a gallery with paintings of notable historical figures was relatively rare in England.  

Many of the portraits in the collection were given to Clarendon by the sitters themselves, either as genuine acts of friendship and loyalty or in order to curry political favour, whilst others were acquired from the various sales of dispossessed families following the political upheavals of the Civil War. What portraits Clarendon could not get hold of in the original, however, he had copied by Lely and his studio and he also commissioned the artist for autograph portraits of his friends and contemporaries – such as Sir Heneage Finch, later 1st Earl of Nottingham, who wrote in his diary in August 1666: ‘I have been three times at Mr. Lilly’s to sit for my picture by my Lord Chancellor’s command.’5 Clarendon also sat to Lely himself, for a three-quarter-length portrait in Chancellor’s robes with the Great Seal (the original of which was tragically lost in the fire at Petersham House) and his daughter Ann, Duchess of York was a regular patron of the artist. Moreover, given Clarendon’s political influence in the immediate years after the Restoration, it is almost certain that he had a hand in Lely’s appointment as Principal Painter in Ordinary to King Charles II – the same position that Van Dyck had held under Charles’s father – in 1661, the very year that this portrait of his own son and daughter-in-law was painted.

1 Wilton in London 1992, p. 82.

2 Bishop Burnet’s History, 1.473.

3 E. Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, The Life of Edward Earl of Clarendon, Lord High Chancellor of England and Chancellor of the University of Oxford: in which is included a continuation of his History of the Grand Rebellion; written by himself.

4 It is perhaps significant that in 1669 Cosimo III de’ Medici, visited England, where he met many of the court artists such as Lely, and on his return to Italy put together a group of pictures of illustrious men, royalty and beautiful women. It is very likely that he would have been aware of Clarendon’s gallery and others like it, such as the Windsor Beauties or the series of portraits of Admirals at Greenwich, both also by Lely, and was inspired by them to create something similar for himself.

5 Quoted in Gibson, p. x.