From Private to Public Exposure: Portraits, Prints and the Royal Mistress

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Lunchtime Lecture with Dr Claudine van Hensbergen

Nell Gwyn by Simon Verelst, c. 1680


Wednesday 7 November

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£5 (plus booking fee)

Please note, admission to Exposed, The Naked Portrait is not included in this price. If you would like to view this exhibition, you will need to purchase a ticket on the day from the Laing shop.


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This talk is inspired by Exposed: The Naked Portrait exhibition.

Please note due to the explicit nature of this exhibition those aged 16 years and below must be accompanied by an adult.

Simon Verelst’s portrait of Nell Gwyn (c. 1670) is one of a number the artist produced of Charles II’s most famous mistress. Nell looks out at us from the canvas, meeting the viewer’s eye with a seductive gaze. The tone of the milky pearls strewn in her loosely-flowing locks echoes the creamy skin of her exposed torso. Nell turns slightly from us, in a teasing gesture that suggests she has just wriggled free of her nightshirt for the viewer’s benefit. Yet how daring, or unique, was this portrait? And how widespread was its influence? This talk answers these questions by exploring portraiture of the mistresses of Charles II, tracing how many of these images became products for public consumption through the new technology of mezzotint engraving. England’s developing print culture, which also made numerous literary treatments of the mistress available to a growing readership, fed a cultural fascination with these women and gave them the status of early celebrities.

Claudine van Hensbergen is Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century English Literature at Northumbria University. She is close to completing a new book, Reading the Royal Mistress: Women in Print, 1660-1735, and specialises in the literary and visual culture of Britain at the turn of the eighteenth century.