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A Boy as a Shepherd

Reclining after a day’s work in the field, a young man holding a recorder and shepherd’s crook gazes off into the distant landscape. The rich, creamy tones of his skin give his face a radiant glow. His youth and beauty are further emphasized by his flowing auburn hair and full, parted lips. What were thought to be beautiful shepherds, such as this young man, were often featured in painting, drama and poetry of the seventeenth century. 

Peter Lely (1618-1680) was born in Westphalia, northern Germany, to Dutch parents. After training in Haarlem in the Netherlands, he arrived in England in the 1640s. His early paintings were mostly narrative pictures of mythological or religious scenes. This picture marks a transition in Lely’s work as he moved away from mythological scenes towards portraiture. Portraiture would dominate the rest of Lely’s career and, by 1660, Lely was the foremost portrait painter in England and one of King Charles II’s principal portraitists. 

Related artworks

Currently on display

Sir Peter Lely
c. 1658–60
Gallery 3
91.4 x 75.6 cm
Oil on canvas
Signed lower right below arm PL in monogram
Fairfax Murray Gift, 1911
Accession number
Adopted by the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2008