Royal Portrait: A Brief History, Famous Artists and Examples

This entry was posted on August 22, 2023 by Gauri Thoyakkat.

Royal Portrait: A Brief History

For centuries now, royal portraits have been made to depict the power and grandeur of rulers that belonged to different kingdoms, dynasties, and empires across the world. From ancient times to the modern era, artists captured the essence of different monarchies. They made stunning and even unique depictions of kings, queens, and other regal figures.

This article discusses the brief history of royal portraiture, exploring how the meaning of these works evolved over time. We will also take a closer look at some of the most famous artists who have contributed to this genre. We will highlight some of the most iconic examples of royal portraits that continue to inspire and captivate us even today.

This article will also give you an insight into how you can get a customized royal portrait of yourself or your family with the help of MavenArt. So, read on to find out everything you need to know about royal portraiture.

What Is Royal Portraiture?

Royal portraiture is a practice by artists to create visual representations of the various monarchs and royal family members. The tradition of royal portraiture is something that goes back centuries.

Its aim was not just to capture and celebrate the lives and rule of a monarch but also to help the ruling class promote and showcase their legitimacy and power. Royal portraiture was also able to spread a sense of authority and majesty.

British Art Studies

Source: British Art Studies

Over time, the practice of Royal Portraiture has evolved as the artistic and cultural values changed. Nonetheless, the practice of Royal Portraiture remains an integral part of the culture and history of many societies in the world.

Brief History of Royal Portraiture

Royal portraiture is a type of art that includes the making of portraits of monarchs and other members of the royal family. Besides this, Royal Portraiture includes subjects of people belonging to high social status. This type of artwork has a long and rich history that goes all the way back to ancient times.

In ancient Egypt, royal portraiture was made in a very idealized and stylized way to show the pharaohs as powerful God-like figures. This tradition continued during the Greek and Roman era as well. The rulers and the other important people of the Greek and Roman empires also got portrayed in a similar fashion.

During the middle ages, naturalistic elements started getting incorporated into royal portraits. At the same time, the monarchs continued to get shown in an idealized manner. Even in the Renaissance period, this trend continued. The prominent artists of the time, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo, created iconic royal portraiture of monarchs, queens, and aristocrats.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the English and French royal courts became the centers of artistic patronage. Artists such as Anthony van Dyck and Peter Lely created elegant and detailed portraits of the royal families of the time.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, with the advent of photography, the new invention slowly became a popular medium used for making royal portraits. Many monarchs and members of the royal families posed for formal portraits that would later get distributed to the public.

In today's world, royal portraiture continues to be a necessary form of art. Modern and contemporary artists use different art styles and mediums, like photography, to capture the personality and likeness of important people.

What Was The Purpose And Goal Of Royal Portraits?

To Convey The Feeling of Authority

An important purpose of Royal Portraiture is to convey a feeling of power and royal authority. Throughout history, monarchs and kings have always tried to express a sense of power, majesty, and control using their images and paintings. They did so by making the monarchs pose in a majestic pose.

The monarchs and the subjects of Royal Portraiture were often seen with royal regalia and symbolic objects, which efficiently conveyed the authority and power of the royal family members.

An example of this in royal portraiture is seen in the portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who is wearing a crown, holding a scepter, and covered in luxurious clothing. Her pose and the majestic setting convey the status and power that Queen Elizabeth I had as a legitimate ruler.

Document The Life of A Monarch

Besides conveying a sense of power, royal portraiture also helped document the rule and the lives of a monarch. Most of the time, royal families gave commissions to do royal portraitures to mark significant milestones and events in the life of a monarch.

royal portraiture

Source: Tate

Royals commemorated events such as births, marriages, and coronations using royal portraiture. These royal portraits captured the rulers and the royal family in a more intimate and personal setting. They allowed the viewers of these artworks to take a peek into the character and personalities of the kings and queens.

Strengthen The Legitimacy of A Monarch

Another important purpose of Royal Portraiture was to cement the monarchy and strengthen its legitimacy. Portraits of monarchs were often displayed in a public setting, allowing ordinary people to see and admire their rulers. These portraits were often related to propaganda which included slogans and texts highlighting the divine right to rule and their connection with the people.

Royal Collection Trust

Source: Royal Collection Trust

Royal portraits thus created a sense of reverence and awe towards the monarchy that further cemented the idea that the ruling class and monarchy were not just necessary but also beneficial to society.

Royal portraiture is a vital part of the culture and history of many societies. Monarchs used these portraits to convey authority and power and document various important events and milestones of their lives.

These royal portraitures were also able to cement the legitimacy of the ruling class. Even though the practice has developed over time, it remains an integral part of understanding and studying the culture and history of various monarchies from across the globe.

How Much Is Royal Family Art Worth?

There is an incredible collection of royal family art and artifacts around the world. Over the course of centuries, all prominent kings, emperors, queens, and empresses have got their royal portraits done, making the collection of royal portraiture huge.

Royal Family Art

Source: History Hit

They include sculptures, paintings, decorative objects, and items of furniture. Many of these works are considered priceless as the cultural and historical significance of these items is immeasurable.

The art collection of the royal families is an integral part of our world's history and culture and is considered a national treasure in many countries. Some art collections by significant royal families in different countries are private. Some of the pieces that are a part of this collection are not even out on public display. This aims to conserve the collection and its various items for future generations to appreciate and cherish.

However, there are still many royal portraits that got sold at expensive rates. A painting titled Lot and His Daughters by Peter Paul Rubens sold in 2018 at Christie's got sold for 44.9 million pounds which amounts to around 59.4 million USD.

royal families

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Some examples of other portraits that got sold for expensive rates include:

1. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt: This portrait, also known as "The Woman in Gold," got sold for $135 million in 2006.
2. Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Vincent van Gogh: This portrait of Dr. Paul Gachet, who treated van Gogh during his final months, got sold in 1990 for $82.5 million.
3. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II by Gustav Klimt: This another portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer got sold in 2006 for $87.9 million.
4. Portrait of Alfonso d'Avalos, Marquis of Vasto by Titian: This portrait of a Spanish military commander got sold in 2003 for $71.7 million.
5. Portrait of King Philip IV of Spain by Diego Velázquez: This portrait of the Spanish monarch got sold in 2010 for $50 million.

Most such portraits are not available for sale anymore, so it may be impossible for us to put a price on many such priceless paintings.

We cannot calculate the worth of the art collection of the royal families just based on their monetary value. We must also consider the cultural and historical significance of the different paintings. Many of the portraits mark major historical and culturally significant events, including conquests, royal marriages, and coronations which provide a peek into the history of a country.

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Five Famous Royal Portraits Through These Years

Royal Portraits, as mentioned, is an important kind of portraiture that played a significant role in the history of visual arts. Several such royal portraits helped art enthusiasts and art historians understand the status, importance, aristocratic culture, and royal ways of different kingdoms and empires of the time.

Among them, here are the five best and most popular Royal Portraits that are still beloved by many art enthusiasts.

Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress (1783) by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress is one of the most famous royal portraits of all time. It is also among the masterpiece works of Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. She was the official court painter of Marie Antoinette, the French Queen.

She was among the few portraitists to get admitted to Académie de St Luc and get invited to join Académie Royale in 1783. Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun completed over thirty portraits of just the queen herself during her art career.

National Museum of Women in The Arts

Source: National Museum of Women in The Arts

The painting Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun is well known for its naturalistic style and the portrayal of the French queen in a more intimate and informal environment.

In the portrait, Marie Antoinette is wearing a beautiful white muslin dress which is known as a chemise dress. The dress was a popular fashionable style at the time. It is simple and unornamented, making it different from the usual royal portraits that have elaborate decorations and finery.

In the painting, the queen's hair is styled in a natural and loose fashion, held together with a ribbon tied at the back. She holds a rose, the symbol of love and beauty, in her hand.

Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress

Source: The Collector

Art enthusiasts and art historians have always been fascinated by the informal setting of Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress. This setting was very different from the formal and posed royal portraits, which was the convention of such portraits during that time. Such a setting helped humanize Marie Antoinette, who faced much criticism and was eventually beheaded during the French Revolution.

The portrait was an immense success when it got first exhibited at the Salon in Paris in 1783. The popularity of such a beautiful painting helped to solidify Vigée Le Brun's reputation as a leading portrait painter of her time. The painting got so much praise for its naturalistic style and also because of its portrayal of Marie Antoinette as a woman rather than a queen.

Today, Marie Antoinette in a Chemise Dress, a masterpiece of 18th-century portraiture, hangs at the Palace of Versailles in France. The painting continues to be a popular attraction for visitors drawn to the beauty, naturalistic style, and simplistic portrayal of Marie Antoinette.

Portrait of Louis XIV (1638-1715) King of France by Hyacinthe Rigaud

Portrait of Louis XIV (1638-1715), King of France, painted by the classic portraitist Hyacinthe Rigaud in 1701, is an example of a beautiful royal portrait. This portrait is an extraordinary depiction of the French monarch Louis XIV, known as the Sun King.

Portrait of Louis XIV

Source: The Collector

Louis XIV is wearing his royal regalia in the painting, proudly standing with one hand on his hip and the other holding a scepter. Rigaud has also included his crown and ermine mantle in the painting, positioned nearby to the King. His posture and gaze at the viewers convey a commanding presence portraying his power and authority very well.

We can notice Rigaud's excellent attention to detail in capturing the richness and intricate detail of the King's clothing, including the embroidered coat and lace cuffs. The artist also portrays the luxury and grand setting of the royal court very well with the draperies and columns in the background.

The painting is a prime example of the Baroque style, characterized by dramatic lighting, intense colors, and intricate details. Rigaud used a strong light source to illuminate the King's face, adding drama and theatrics to the already elegant painting.

Queen Victoria (1838) By Thomas Sully

Another famous royal portrait that made this kind of painting extremely popular is Queen Victoria by the renowned artist Thomas Sully.

Queen Victoria was among the many masterpieces that Thomas Sully, the American portrait painter, completed throughout his career. He has made royal portraits of many notable figures in the 19th century other than Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom.

Queen Victoria

Source: The Collector

Sully painted not one but several portraits of the queen during her reign, including this particular one that now hangs in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

This portrait he created in 1838 shows the queen standing with her head turned slightly to the right as if looking at us viewers. She wears a beautiful white dress with an elegant red cape, and her hair is tied up, most of it covered by the crown she is wearing.

This royal portrait by Thomas Sully captures Queen Victoria's youthful beauty and aristocracy. He completed this particular painting after Victoria's Coronation as the Queen. Sullyu portrays the queen in a young and romantic way which is evident in her gaze and the beautiful ornaments she is wearing.

The painting also serves as a testament to his skill as a portrait painter. The masterpiece is now an iconic representation of the queen during her early reign and her youthful and royal charm.

Queen Maria Karadjordjevic (1922) by Paja Jovanovic

Another portrait that helped make royal portraiture popular is the painting Queen Maria Karadjordjevic by Paja Jovanovic. This 1922 royal portrait was of the then Queen of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, Maria of Yugoslavia, who reigned from 1922 to 1934 after her marriage with King Alexander.

In the early twentieth century, Queen Maria Karadjordevic was a prominent member of the Serbian royal family. She was a unique woman at that time with her unconventional interest in automobiles and driving long distances.

Queen Maria Karadjordjevic

Source: The Collector

The classic Serbian artist Paja Jovanovic's portrait of Queen Maria Karadjordevic is an elegant and striking representation of the beautiful queen. She was widely admired for her beauty, intelligence, and philanthropy during her time, and the painter was able to capture this well in his work of art.

In the painting, Queen Maria is in a seated position, wearing a formal, full-length gown, with her hair pulled back and adorned with a tiara. She looks confident and powerful with her head held high and her gaze fixed firmly on the viewer. Through Jovanovic's use of light and shadow, he created a sense of depth and texture in the painting, making the queen's dress and jewelry seem almost tangible.

Paja Jovanovic was famous for his ability to capture the personality and character of his subjects well in his portraits. You can notice that this portrait of Queen Maria is no exception.

Catherine II By Fyodor Rokotov

Another majestic portrait that lives up to the name of being a royal portrait is Fyodor Rokotov's 1763 painting Catherine II.

Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great, was a powerful Empress of Russia who ruled from 1762 until her death in 1796. She became the Empress after her husband, Peter III, got dethroned.

Catherine II By Fyodor Rokotov

Source: The Collector

Rokotov painted several portraits of Catherine, but his most famous one is Catherine II, her coronation portrait. The portrait is an oil painting on canvas and shows the queen in all her regal glory, looking powerful on her throne. She is wearing a sumptuous silver gown with gold trimmings and a diamond tiara on her head, surrounded by beautiful pearls.

As mentioned above, Catherine is seated on a throne-like chair, with her left hand resting on a table and her right hand holding her scepter. She looks serene, and her tilted head has a hint of a smile. Her expression and posture exude confidence and authority.

The classic Russian painter, Rokotov's portrait of the queen is one of the best representations of Catherine the Great and is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Russian art. Catherine II now elegantly hangs among the art collections of The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Four Popular Royal Portrait Artists

Other than the artists whose paintings got mentioned above, there are a few others too who played a vital role in the promotion and growth of Royal portraiture. This section discusses five other artist names that we cannot miss when discussing royal portraiture.

Hans Holbein the Younger

Royal Portrait Artists

Source: The New York Times

Holbein was a German royal portrait artist famous for his portraits of King Henry VIII and his court. He was born in Augsburg, Germany, in 1497, and Holbein trained in his father's workshop as a painter and designer of stained glass during his early years.

In 1526, the artist traveled to England to work for Thomas Cromwell, a close advisor to King Henry VIII. Holbein soon became a king's favorite and got appointed as the King's Painter in 1536. He created several portraits of Henry VIII, including the famous royal portrait of the King holding his sword and wearing the Order of the Garter.

Accessible Art History

Source: Accessible Art History

Holbein was famous for the precise and detailed style of his portraits. This style allowed him to capture the likeness of his subjects with great accuracy. We can see in his royal portraits that he was an expert at creating portraits that conveyed the power and authority of the monarch and his court. All of his royal family portraits and courtiers are even now highly regarded for their realism, elegance, and fine detail.

Anthony van Dyck

Anthony van Dyck

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

Van Dyck was a Flemish Baroque artist who became a court painter in England under King Charles I. He is known for his elegant and sophisticated portraits of the royal family, aristocracy, and other notable figures of the time.

Van Dyck's career as a royal portrait artist began in the early 1620s after being appointed as the court painter to Archduchess Isabella in Brussels. He later went on to work for King James I of England and Scotland and then for his son King Charles I. During his time in England, he produced numerous royal family portraits, including the famous Charles I on Horseback, which is now regarded as one of his masterpieces.

Van Dyck's portraits

Source: Mutual Art

Van Dyck's portraits of royalty are famous for their elegance and refinement and ability to capture the personality and status of the subject well. He was a master of composition and color, and his use of light and shadow created a sense of depth and three-dimensionality in his paintings.

In addition to royal portraits, Van Dyck painted many portraits of aristocrats and other prominent figures of his time. He was a highly sought artist and received numerous commissions from European patrons who had a lot of wealth.

Diego Velázquez

Velázquez was a Spanish artist who served as a court painter for King Philip IV. He is famous for his portraits of the King and the royal family and his masterful use of light and shadow. He created several masterpieces during his tenure that still get admired and praised.

Diego Velázquez

Source: Wikipedia

Velázquez's portrait paintings are famous for being highly realistic, and they captured the personalities of his subjects very well. As mentioned above, he also had a unique ability to capture the light and shadow in his paintings, giving them a natural and almost lifelike appearance.

Velázquez painted several portraits of King Philip IV, including one of the King on horseback, which is considered one of his most iconic paintings. He also painted portraits of the King's family members, including his wife, Queen Mariana, and their children.

Velázquez's portrait paintings

Source: Wikipedia

His paintings were highly prized during his lifetime and continue to be admired and studied by art historians and art lovers today. Many of his portraits still inspire and captivate viewers, making him not just one of the most crucial artists in Spanish history but also in the visual art history of the world.

Richard Stone

Richard Stone was a British artist who gained recognition and popularity as a royal portrait painter. Royal family members, including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, and Princess Diana, commissioned Richard Stone to work on their royal portraits.

Colchester Gazette

Source: Colchester Gazette

Stone was famous for his ability to capture the likeness of his subjects well, his attention to detail, and his use of vibrant colors. His portraits of the royal family are some of his finest works and are highly prized by collectors and art enthusiasts alike.

One of Stone's most famous royal portraits is his 1989 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The Royal Air Force commissioned the artist to do the portrait to celebrate the queen's visit to their headquarters. The painting shows Queen Elizabeth II wearing the uniform of the organization. The portrait is notable for its striking use of color and composition, which is now widely reproduced in books and magazines.

Historical portraits

Source: Historical portraits

All of Richard Stone's portraits of the British Royal Family, especially the ones he did of Queen Elizabeth II, remain important examples of his work and continue to be admired by art lovers worldwide.

Commission Your Customized Royal Portrait at MavenArt

There may be no one who has hoped to have a customized royal portrait ({Landing Page Title} - Custom Royal Portraits) of oneself that can make you look like a king or queen. You can make this possible by commissioning a custom royal portrait from the best commission art service, MaveArt.

Commissioning a royal portrait can be an excellent investment. Before giving a commission, you must know the process and steps involved. Here are the steps that MavenArt follows when consider when commissioning a royal portrait:

Step 1: Log On To Mavenart

The first step towards commissioning a royal portrait customized by MavenArt is to connect with the relevant officials. You can contact them by calling the number on the website or mailing them with brief details about what you are looking for.

Step 2: Let Them Know Your Requirements

If you call them, let them know you want a customized royal portrait of yourself, someone else, or your family. You may mention that you are looking for a royal portrait even if you are mailing them, and concerned officials from MavenArt will get back to you soon to discuss the details.

During this step, you can also mention the desired style and size you are looking for in your customized royal portrait. You can also mention here any other requirements that you have.

Step 3: Discuss The Rates and Come To An Agreement

Discuss with the Mavenart officials regarding your set budget. Commissioning a customized royal portrait can be expensive, but Mavenart can give you the best prices.

Agree to the fees and other details, after which the skilled artists available in the firm will start working on the portrait. You will have to pay a small advance for them to start working on your commission art.

Step 4: Choose a Reference Royal Portrait

You now have to choose a reference royal portrait that you would like yourselves to be portrayed as. To give an example, if you wish to get a royal portrait that resembles Queen Victoria by Thomas Sully, you can let Mavenart know about that.

Mavenart can also accommodate changes as far as the attire or accessories go. They can even add pets, additional people, or a custom background making the royal portrait that features you unique and spectacular.

Step 5: Receive A Complimentary Painting

Once all the details get fixed, Mavenart will work up a complementary layout. They will complete it within a business day and will send you the same via email.

Step 6: Receive a Preview of The Painting

Once the artist completes some initial sketches, Mavenart provides the opportunity to review them and provide feedback. You can mention any required changes or adjustments to your assigned artist during this step. This is your chance to make any necessary changes or request additional details.

Step 7: Approve the final portrait

Once your MavenArt artist completes the royal portrait, they will show you the work for you to review and give your final approval. Once you approve of the elegant royal portrait, MavenArt can frame it to match the elegance of the painting and ship it to you. The shipping will get done once you have paid the rest of the installment of the commission rate.


The art of royal portraiture has a rich and fascinating history spanning many centuries. From ancient civilizations to the present day, royal portraits have served as powerful symbols of authority and status.

Throughout the ages, many famous artists got commissioned to create these portraits by many royal families, each bringing their own unique style and interpretation to the subject. Examples of iconic royal portraits hang now in many of the world's greatest art museums, such as the National Portrait Gallery in London, the Louvre in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The tradition of royal portraiture still continues through commission artists and other contemporary painters who add their own unique twists. With the help of commission art services like MavenArt, even you can feel like a king or a queen by getting a royal portrait painted of you.

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