Court painters were artists employed by royal courts to paint portraits of the royal family and their courtiers

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  • attributed to Nicholas Hilliard, 'Queen Elizabeth I' circa 1575

    attributed to Nicholas Hilliard
    Queen Elizabeth I circa 1575
    Oil on wood
    support: 787 x 610 mm
    Lent by the National Portrait Gallery, London 1965Photo Tate

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  • Paul Van Somer, 'Lady Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent' circa 1619

    Paul Van Somer
    Lady Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent circa 1619
    Oil on wood
    support: 1143 x 819 mm frame: 1306 x 1005 x 75 mm
    Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1961

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  • Sir Anthony Van Dyck, 'Portrait of Mary Hill, Lady Killigrew' 1638

    Sir Anthony Van Dyck
    Portrait of Mary Hill, Lady Killigrew 1638
    Oil on canvas
    support: 1065 x 833 mm frame: 1274 x 1039 x 85 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund, Tate Members and the bequest of Alice Cooper Creed 2003

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Until modern times royal courts were a major focus of artistic patronage. Monarchs employed their own artists giving them titles such as ‘King’s painter’, but they are generally referred to as court painters. They could be among the most famous artists of the day. In Britain Henry VIII imported Holbein and Charles I appointed Sir Anthony van Dyck ‘Principalle Paynter in ordinary to their majesties’. Elizabeth I nurtured the first native-born genius of British art, Nicholas Hilliard. Charles I built one of the greatest royal art collections and lavishly patronised the arts in general.