The Evolution of Royal Family Portraits

The Evolution of Royal Family Portraits

The First Family

This house altar is over 3000 years old (1351-1334 BCE) and depicts the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten alongside his wife Nerfertiti and their three daughters. Previously, rulers of Ancient Egypt were depicted as youthful and heavily stylised, but here Akhenaten and Nerfertiti are depicted very realistically, playing with and embracing their children. This break from tradition was part of Akhenaten's programme of propaganda in switching to a new religion. The pharaoh introduced Atenism, the worship of the sun disc Aten, whose rays extend towards the couple and give them life. 

Family Fortune

Royalty used family portraits as a tool to represent the strength of the family bloodline. During the 16th century, a tradition of portraits depicting royalty emerged, which were very stiff and formal. Diego Velázquez's portrait of the Spanish Royal family from 1656 breaks with this tradition. Titled Las Meninas, (Ladies in Waiting), this painting presents an incredibly relaxed scene with the king's daughter - the Infanta Margaret Theresa - who is depicted in the centre of the composition, surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting. But where are her mother and father, King Philip IV and Queen Mariana of Austria? You can spot them in the mirror hanging on the back wall! Learn more about this usual portrait in our film.

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'Royal Portraits: A Century of Photography' at the King's Gallery in London charts how portraits of the British royal family have evolved through the medium of photography from the 1920s to the present day. The exhibition will present over 150 photographs from the royal collection and archives, and will include work by celebrated photographers such as Cecil Beaton, Dorothy Wilding, and Annie Leibovitz. In addition to showcasing the official royal portraits, the exhibition will shed light on family relationships which are not usually witnessed by the public.