The Many Fascinating Faces of History

AP-avatar 220px-Kneller_self-portrait_emCara/Andrea here, One of the things I love about browsing through a museum or gallery exhibit is that serendipitous discovery of some new item or person that adds yet another reason to be fascinated by the past. It’s those tiny colorful threads that make the rich tapestry of history come alive for me, and deepens my appreciation of the human spirit’s creative energy.

Kneller66_smallI recently stumbled upon the work of Sir Godfrey Kneller, a German-born painter who worked for much of his life in London. (He anglicized  his name from Gottfried Kniller.) I was unaware of his art, but as I read the short biography on the gallery walls, and spent 365px-King_George_I_by_Sir_Godfrey_Kneller,_Bttime perusing his canvases, I was delighted to realize that I’d come across a new-to-me historical figure with a fascinating story, both artistically and intellectually.

Born in 1646 in Lübeck, Kneller studied with Rembrandt and spent a number of years in Rome and Venice, mastering the art of historical and architectural scenes, before coming to England in 1674 at the invitation of the Duke of Monmouth. He was soon asked to paint a portrait of Charles II, and from there he quickly established himself as the IsaacNewton-1689 premier portrait artist of the era. Court beauties, bewigged aristocrats, leading intellectuals, like Sir Isaac Newton—they all sat for Kneller, who in 1680 was appointed as “Principal Painter to the Crown.” Knighted by William III, and later created a baronet by George I, he is considered the master of English Baroque portraiture and established a style—albeit a trifle formulaic—that remained in vogue until Hogarth and Reynolds brought a different, more individualistic perspective to capturing people in paint and canvas.

One of the things that I found fascinating about Kneller was not just his art, which as I have said tends to be similar in formal style and composition, but his association with the leading influential thinkers of the day. His most famous works are his portraits of the Kit-Cat Club—which led me to another delightful discovery!

Duke-of-KingstonFounded in the late 1690s, the Kit-Cat Club was a group of prominent lords and literary luminaries of the day who wielded enormous influence in shaping British social and political thought. They originally met at a tavern in Shire Lane run by a man named Christopher Catling, whose mutton pies were know as Kit-Cats (the nickname is derived from his name, Kit being the diminutive of Christopher.) The club adopted the rather humorous moniker and soon became the Earl-of-Oxford-rWalpoleunofficial center of Whig power during a time of flux in the monarchy. They later moved their meeting place to the Strand, where the legendary London restaurant Simpsons-In-the-Strand now stands.

Members included the highest born aristocrats of the land as well as ordinary men. It was an interest in ideas and politics that brought them together, and they are credited with shaping “modern” British attitudes going into 18th century. William Congreve, Sir John Vanbrugh, the Duke of Somerset, The Earl of Burlington, Sir Robert Walpole, and the Duke of Devonshire were Kit-Cats, as was Kneller himself.

William-CongreveThe National Portrait Gallery in London has a small room devoted to Kneller’s Kit-Cat portraits. It’s quite an experience to stare at those self-assured faces and imagine being a fly on the wall at those meeting. Apparently, the club was famous for its elaborate toasts to the reigning beauties of the day. They commissioned special glasses with the compositions engraved on them. Some of the ladies who earned the honor were Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Lady Godolphin  and Lady Sunderland.

MedKnellerWindowKneller died in 1723, victim of a fever, and was buried at Twickenham Church, where he served as a warden. He is also commemorated with a monument in Westminster Abbey, highlighted with an epitaph composed by Alexander Pope.

West-AbbeySo, see what I mean about one thing leading to another? Through a glance at a painting, I was lead to learn about the artist AND his  world. To me, that’s the beauty and excitement of history—art, ideas, fashion, etc. all intertwine in such thought-provoking ways. It makes us ponder, it makes us smile, it makes us admire the amazing talents and personalities that have made the world what it is today.

So, what about you? Have you made any recent discoveries of new people or items in history that excited you? Do you have as much fun as I do walking through museums or exhibits and seeing something new? And lastly, what about portraits—do you have a favorite portrait painter?

100 thoughts on “The Many Fascinating Faces of History”

  1. I ended up in Edinburgh without much in the way of plans, and ye gods… Everywhere I turned was something fascinating, from a history of whiskey making to a shop with old-fashioned looms, to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There is almost too much in London, it’s hard to know where to start, but I fell in love with Edinburgh.

    Reply
  2. I ended up in Edinburgh without much in the way of plans, and ye gods… Everywhere I turned was something fascinating, from a history of whiskey making to a shop with old-fashioned looms, to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There is almost too much in London, it’s hard to know where to start, but I fell in love with Edinburgh.

    Reply
  3. I ended up in Edinburgh without much in the way of plans, and ye gods… Everywhere I turned was something fascinating, from a history of whiskey making to a shop with old-fashioned looms, to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There is almost too much in London, it’s hard to know where to start, but I fell in love with Edinburgh.

    Reply
  4. I ended up in Edinburgh without much in the way of plans, and ye gods… Everywhere I turned was something fascinating, from a history of whiskey making to a shop with old-fashioned looms, to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There is almost too much in London, it’s hard to know where to start, but I fell in love with Edinburgh.

    Reply
  5. I ended up in Edinburgh without much in the way of plans, and ye gods… Everywhere I turned was something fascinating, from a history of whiskey making to a shop with old-fashioned looms, to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There is almost too much in London, it’s hard to know where to start, but I fell in love with Edinburgh.

    Reply
  6. This is fun — I recently finished Robert Massie’s biography of Peter the Great, and one of the illustrations is the portrait Kneller did of Peter when Peter visited England.

    Reply
  7. This is fun — I recently finished Robert Massie’s biography of Peter the Great, and one of the illustrations is the portrait Kneller did of Peter when Peter visited England.

    Reply
  8. This is fun — I recently finished Robert Massie’s biography of Peter the Great, and one of the illustrations is the portrait Kneller did of Peter when Peter visited England.

    Reply
  9. This is fun — I recently finished Robert Massie’s biography of Peter the Great, and one of the illustrations is the portrait Kneller did of Peter when Peter visited England.

    Reply
  10. This is fun — I recently finished Robert Massie’s biography of Peter the Great, and one of the illustrations is the portrait Kneller did of Peter when Peter visited England.

    Reply
  11. No recent discoveries here, Cara/Andrea, though I really enjoyed this blog. I love wandering through art galleries and lately it’s been mostly galleries I know quite well, and I really enjoy revisiting old favorites.
    I always find portraits fascinating, not just for the face and pose and what it tells you about the person, but also what else is in the painting with them that’s supposed to add to the portrait.
    As for sensory overload, I know that feeling, too. When I was in new York last year i planned to spend the day at the Met, but instead I ended up only seeing the Alexander McQueen exhibition and then my head was full. Marvelous exhibition.

    Reply
  12. No recent discoveries here, Cara/Andrea, though I really enjoyed this blog. I love wandering through art galleries and lately it’s been mostly galleries I know quite well, and I really enjoy revisiting old favorites.
    I always find portraits fascinating, not just for the face and pose and what it tells you about the person, but also what else is in the painting with them that’s supposed to add to the portrait.
    As for sensory overload, I know that feeling, too. When I was in new York last year i planned to spend the day at the Met, but instead I ended up only seeing the Alexander McQueen exhibition and then my head was full. Marvelous exhibition.

    Reply
  13. No recent discoveries here, Cara/Andrea, though I really enjoyed this blog. I love wandering through art galleries and lately it’s been mostly galleries I know quite well, and I really enjoy revisiting old favorites.
    I always find portraits fascinating, not just for the face and pose and what it tells you about the person, but also what else is in the painting with them that’s supposed to add to the portrait.
    As for sensory overload, I know that feeling, too. When I was in new York last year i planned to spend the day at the Met, but instead I ended up only seeing the Alexander McQueen exhibition and then my head was full. Marvelous exhibition.

    Reply
  14. No recent discoveries here, Cara/Andrea, though I really enjoyed this blog. I love wandering through art galleries and lately it’s been mostly galleries I know quite well, and I really enjoy revisiting old favorites.
    I always find portraits fascinating, not just for the face and pose and what it tells you about the person, but also what else is in the painting with them that’s supposed to add to the portrait.
    As for sensory overload, I know that feeling, too. When I was in new York last year i planned to spend the day at the Met, but instead I ended up only seeing the Alexander McQueen exhibition and then my head was full. Marvelous exhibition.

    Reply
  15. No recent discoveries here, Cara/Andrea, though I really enjoyed this blog. I love wandering through art galleries and lately it’s been mostly galleries I know quite well, and I really enjoy revisiting old favorites.
    I always find portraits fascinating, not just for the face and pose and what it tells you about the person, but also what else is in the painting with them that’s supposed to add to the portrait.
    As for sensory overload, I know that feeling, too. When I was in new York last year i planned to spend the day at the Met, but instead I ended up only seeing the Alexander McQueen exhibition and then my head was full. Marvelous exhibition.

    Reply
  16. My question to the Word Wenches:
    Re: The Many Faces of History,
    How your romance novel was successful thru the cover art painted by Alan Kass?
    What did you think of the artistic portrayal of your characters, the historic background settings, as painted by Alan Kass? Do you have a favorite Alan Kass cover painting that he made for your Regency historical romance. And yes, I’m a big fan of Alan Kass’s artwork. Sincerely, Kathryn Smith (Clermont, FL)

    Reply
  17. My question to the Word Wenches:
    Re: The Many Faces of History,
    How your romance novel was successful thru the cover art painted by Alan Kass?
    What did you think of the artistic portrayal of your characters, the historic background settings, as painted by Alan Kass? Do you have a favorite Alan Kass cover painting that he made for your Regency historical romance. And yes, I’m a big fan of Alan Kass’s artwork. Sincerely, Kathryn Smith (Clermont, FL)

    Reply
  18. My question to the Word Wenches:
    Re: The Many Faces of History,
    How your romance novel was successful thru the cover art painted by Alan Kass?
    What did you think of the artistic portrayal of your characters, the historic background settings, as painted by Alan Kass? Do you have a favorite Alan Kass cover painting that he made for your Regency historical romance. And yes, I’m a big fan of Alan Kass’s artwork. Sincerely, Kathryn Smith (Clermont, FL)

    Reply
  19. My question to the Word Wenches:
    Re: The Many Faces of History,
    How your romance novel was successful thru the cover art painted by Alan Kass?
    What did you think of the artistic portrayal of your characters, the historic background settings, as painted by Alan Kass? Do you have a favorite Alan Kass cover painting that he made for your Regency historical romance. And yes, I’m a big fan of Alan Kass’s artwork. Sincerely, Kathryn Smith (Clermont, FL)

    Reply
  20. My question to the Word Wenches:
    Re: The Many Faces of History,
    How your romance novel was successful thru the cover art painted by Alan Kass?
    What did you think of the artistic portrayal of your characters, the historic background settings, as painted by Alan Kass? Do you have a favorite Alan Kass cover painting that he made for your Regency historical romance. And yes, I’m a big fan of Alan Kass’s artwork. Sincerely, Kathryn Smith (Clermont, FL)

    Reply
  21. Anne, I alwats enjot revisiting old favorites too, and always see new little things that I’ve missed before. I love how suddenly a detail or a dress can can me start wondering about fabric or how lace was made, or some such thing.
    The McQueen exhibit was amazing! I’m looking forward to going to see the Renaissance Portrait exhibit there later this month—a friend, who is a former curator there, is taking me on a guided tour which should be fascinating.

    Reply
  22. Anne, I alwats enjot revisiting old favorites too, and always see new little things that I’ve missed before. I love how suddenly a detail or a dress can can me start wondering about fabric or how lace was made, or some such thing.
    The McQueen exhibit was amazing! I’m looking forward to going to see the Renaissance Portrait exhibit there later this month—a friend, who is a former curator there, is taking me on a guided tour which should be fascinating.

    Reply
  23. Anne, I alwats enjot revisiting old favorites too, and always see new little things that I’ve missed before. I love how suddenly a detail or a dress can can me start wondering about fabric or how lace was made, or some such thing.
    The McQueen exhibit was amazing! I’m looking forward to going to see the Renaissance Portrait exhibit there later this month—a friend, who is a former curator there, is taking me on a guided tour which should be fascinating.

    Reply
  24. Anne, I alwats enjot revisiting old favorites too, and always see new little things that I’ve missed before. I love how suddenly a detail or a dress can can me start wondering about fabric or how lace was made, or some such thing.
    The McQueen exhibit was amazing! I’m looking forward to going to see the Renaissance Portrait exhibit there later this month—a friend, who is a former curator there, is taking me on a guided tour which should be fascinating.

    Reply
  25. Anne, I alwats enjot revisiting old favorites too, and always see new little things that I’ve missed before. I love how suddenly a detail or a dress can can me start wondering about fabric or how lace was made, or some such thing.
    The McQueen exhibit was amazing! I’m looking forward to going to see the Renaissance Portrait exhibit there later this month—a friend, who is a former curator there, is taking me on a guided tour which should be fascinating.

    Reply
  26. Kathryn, I wasn’t lucky enough to have a Kass cover, but I hope some of the other Wenches will chime in. I know he did some fabulous ones for Mary Jo. His work really did have lush colors and and an aura of “romance.” It’s a shame that there aren’t more painters that have such style—most covers today are manipulated photography, and they don’t have the same artistic feel.

    Reply
  27. Kathryn, I wasn’t lucky enough to have a Kass cover, but I hope some of the other Wenches will chime in. I know he did some fabulous ones for Mary Jo. His work really did have lush colors and and an aura of “romance.” It’s a shame that there aren’t more painters that have such style—most covers today are manipulated photography, and they don’t have the same artistic feel.

    Reply
  28. Kathryn, I wasn’t lucky enough to have a Kass cover, but I hope some of the other Wenches will chime in. I know he did some fabulous ones for Mary Jo. His work really did have lush colors and and an aura of “romance.” It’s a shame that there aren’t more painters that have such style—most covers today are manipulated photography, and they don’t have the same artistic feel.

    Reply
  29. Kathryn, I wasn’t lucky enough to have a Kass cover, but I hope some of the other Wenches will chime in. I know he did some fabulous ones for Mary Jo. His work really did have lush colors and and an aura of “romance.” It’s a shame that there aren’t more painters that have such style—most covers today are manipulated photography, and they don’t have the same artistic feel.

    Reply
  30. Kathryn, I wasn’t lucky enough to have a Kass cover, but I hope some of the other Wenches will chime in. I know he did some fabulous ones for Mary Jo. His work really did have lush colors and and an aura of “romance.” It’s a shame that there aren’t more painters that have such style—most covers today are manipulated photography, and they don’t have the same artistic feel.

    Reply
  31. I’ve studied Kneller in detail, as he pops up several times in a novel I’m writing and painted nearly all its characters–and I’m immensely grateful to him. It’s so much a part of my process, “seeing” the people who live in my book.
    I’m very curious to know the identity of the lady whose portrait you inserted into this blog post…I don’t recognise that one, and the pose and background are identical to the one Kneller used for my female protagonist.
    Re: Alan Kass, my feelings are mixed–some of his covers were better than others, but he did very well by me and I appreciated the way he incorporated my input and followed my character descriptions so well!

    Reply
  32. I’ve studied Kneller in detail, as he pops up several times in a novel I’m writing and painted nearly all its characters–and I’m immensely grateful to him. It’s so much a part of my process, “seeing” the people who live in my book.
    I’m very curious to know the identity of the lady whose portrait you inserted into this blog post…I don’t recognise that one, and the pose and background are identical to the one Kneller used for my female protagonist.
    Re: Alan Kass, my feelings are mixed–some of his covers were better than others, but he did very well by me and I appreciated the way he incorporated my input and followed my character descriptions so well!

    Reply
  33. I’ve studied Kneller in detail, as he pops up several times in a novel I’m writing and painted nearly all its characters–and I’m immensely grateful to him. It’s so much a part of my process, “seeing” the people who live in my book.
    I’m very curious to know the identity of the lady whose portrait you inserted into this blog post…I don’t recognise that one, and the pose and background are identical to the one Kneller used for my female protagonist.
    Re: Alan Kass, my feelings are mixed–some of his covers were better than others, but he did very well by me and I appreciated the way he incorporated my input and followed my character descriptions so well!

    Reply
  34. I’ve studied Kneller in detail, as he pops up several times in a novel I’m writing and painted nearly all its characters–and I’m immensely grateful to him. It’s so much a part of my process, “seeing” the people who live in my book.
    I’m very curious to know the identity of the lady whose portrait you inserted into this blog post…I don’t recognise that one, and the pose and background are identical to the one Kneller used for my female protagonist.
    Re: Alan Kass, my feelings are mixed–some of his covers were better than others, but he did very well by me and I appreciated the way he incorporated my input and followed my character descriptions so well!

    Reply
  35. I’ve studied Kneller in detail, as he pops up several times in a novel I’m writing and painted nearly all its characters–and I’m immensely grateful to him. It’s so much a part of my process, “seeing” the people who live in my book.
    I’m very curious to know the identity of the lady whose portrait you inserted into this blog post…I don’t recognise that one, and the pose and background are identical to the one Kneller used for my female protagonist.
    Re: Alan Kass, my feelings are mixed–some of his covers were better than others, but he did very well by me and I appreciated the way he incorporated my input and followed my character descriptions so well!

    Reply
  36. I am so enjoying your site and introductions to new historical figures (and painters). Two yrs. ago I moved from Baldacci-esque int’l espionage to historical romance, where I can now realize the history in both genres.
    I have been in a love affair with King James V for over two yrs. I now look forward to meeting this latest fascinating character.

    Reply
  37. I am so enjoying your site and introductions to new historical figures (and painters). Two yrs. ago I moved from Baldacci-esque int’l espionage to historical romance, where I can now realize the history in both genres.
    I have been in a love affair with King James V for over two yrs. I now look forward to meeting this latest fascinating character.

    Reply
  38. I am so enjoying your site and introductions to new historical figures (and painters). Two yrs. ago I moved from Baldacci-esque int’l espionage to historical romance, where I can now realize the history in both genres.
    I have been in a love affair with King James V for over two yrs. I now look forward to meeting this latest fascinating character.

    Reply
  39. I am so enjoying your site and introductions to new historical figures (and painters). Two yrs. ago I moved from Baldacci-esque int’l espionage to historical romance, where I can now realize the history in both genres.
    I have been in a love affair with King James V for over two yrs. I now look forward to meeting this latest fascinating character.

    Reply
  40. I am so enjoying your site and introductions to new historical figures (and painters). Two yrs. ago I moved from Baldacci-esque int’l espionage to historical romance, where I can now realize the history in both genres.
    I have been in a love affair with King James V for over two yrs. I now look forward to meeting this latest fascinating character.

    Reply
  41. I definitely enjoy traveling and visiting historic places. And yes, everytime I visit a museum I get excited. It’s like you suddenly have connection in the past despite the your modernize environment. It gives me a feeling of admiration as historic people, places and event contibuted a lot to our progressive, modern living.

    Reply
  42. I definitely enjoy traveling and visiting historic places. And yes, everytime I visit a museum I get excited. It’s like you suddenly have connection in the past despite the your modernize environment. It gives me a feeling of admiration as historic people, places and event contibuted a lot to our progressive, modern living.

    Reply
  43. I definitely enjoy traveling and visiting historic places. And yes, everytime I visit a museum I get excited. It’s like you suddenly have connection in the past despite the your modernize environment. It gives me a feeling of admiration as historic people, places and event contibuted a lot to our progressive, modern living.

    Reply
  44. I definitely enjoy traveling and visiting historic places. And yes, everytime I visit a museum I get excited. It’s like you suddenly have connection in the past despite the your modernize environment. It gives me a feeling of admiration as historic people, places and event contibuted a lot to our progressive, modern living.

    Reply
  45. I definitely enjoy traveling and visiting historic places. And yes, everytime I visit a museum I get excited. It’s like you suddenly have connection in the past despite the your modernize environment. It gives me a feeling of admiration as historic people, places and event contibuted a lot to our progressive, modern living.

    Reply
  46. Cara/Andrea, Sadly, Alan Kass passed away. You are right, digitally enhanced, made over digital photos for romance covers – some images of the couple look nothing like the hero & heroine described in the book. They are “generic.” Uninteresting and don’t sell the romance book to me as the original hand painted covers for the books. Yes, I know the hand painted covers were expensive & rushed into reproduction with the printing of the manuscript.

    Reply
  47. Cara/Andrea, Sadly, Alan Kass passed away. You are right, digitally enhanced, made over digital photos for romance covers – some images of the couple look nothing like the hero & heroine described in the book. They are “generic.” Uninteresting and don’t sell the romance book to me as the original hand painted covers for the books. Yes, I know the hand painted covers were expensive & rushed into reproduction with the printing of the manuscript.

    Reply
  48. Cara/Andrea, Sadly, Alan Kass passed away. You are right, digitally enhanced, made over digital photos for romance covers – some images of the couple look nothing like the hero & heroine described in the book. They are “generic.” Uninteresting and don’t sell the romance book to me as the original hand painted covers for the books. Yes, I know the hand painted covers were expensive & rushed into reproduction with the printing of the manuscript.

    Reply
  49. Cara/Andrea, Sadly, Alan Kass passed away. You are right, digitally enhanced, made over digital photos for romance covers – some images of the couple look nothing like the hero & heroine described in the book. They are “generic.” Uninteresting and don’t sell the romance book to me as the original hand painted covers for the books. Yes, I know the hand painted covers were expensive & rushed into reproduction with the printing of the manuscript.

    Reply
  50. Cara/Andrea, Sadly, Alan Kass passed away. You are right, digitally enhanced, made over digital photos for romance covers – some images of the couple look nothing like the hero & heroine described in the book. They are “generic.” Uninteresting and don’t sell the romance book to me as the original hand painted covers for the books. Yes, I know the hand painted covers were expensive & rushed into reproduction with the printing of the manuscript.

    Reply

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