Jean Petitot

Jean Petitot, Self Portrait.© Harley Foundation, The Portland Collection

Jean Petitot (1607-1691) was a Swiss painter who introduced enamel miniature painting to England.

Petitot learned this skill in Paris, before moving to England in around 1633. Watercolour miniatures were highly popular in England. Here, he joined Charles I and Henrietta Maria’s household and found success painting miniatures of royalty and aristocracy in sumptuous, vibrant enamel.

The Portland Collection contains an astonishing range of miniatures. This has been described by Vanessa Remington, former Senior Curator of Paintings at the Royal Collection Trust, as “probably second only to the Royal Collection”.

In the Unseen Treasures exhibition, you can see a group of six miniatures by Petitot. This is an esteemed group of faces reflecting Petitot’s prestigious position at court, with three royals, two members of the aristocracy, and a fascinating self-portrait.

Charles I and the Cavendish connection

William Cavendish, ancestor of the Dukes of Portland, was a prolific art collector. As a key supporter of Charles I and the governor to Charles II when he was a young boy, many of the works that he bought and collected have royal connections.

In Royal Refugees, Karen Hearn suggests: “A number of enamelled miniatures by the Genevan-born and -trained artist Jean Petitot the Elder are found today in the collection of William Cavendish’s descendants. Although not possible to prove, it is plausible that at least some of them once belonged to him.”

And so it seems likely that the three royal miniatures by Petitot on show in the museum would have been collected by Cavendish.

The collection includes a portrait of Charles I, from 1638, his wife Henrietta Maria, dated 1639, and Prince Charles, later Charles II, from 1638.

All three of these paintings are based on full-length portraits by Van Dyck. The portrait of Charles II is on show in the museum.

Petitot painted another miniature of Henrietta Maria from the same Van Dyck portrait, in the same year. This miniature is at the Willem V Gallery in The Hague.

When the Civil War broke out, Petitot moved to France.  Here, he was given apartments in the Louvre and continued to paint royalty and aristocrats under the patronage of Louis XIV.


Rebecca Hardy

Rebecca Hardy

Rebecca Hardy trained as a fine artist and has been working in the culture sector for over a decade. She writes for a number of publications on topics such as art history, contemporary exhibitions, and museum marketing.

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