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Rare portrait peers into William Penn’s younger years

February 23, 2016

Filed under Community and Domestic Life, Exhibits, Pennsylvania Icons, Pennsylvania Treasures

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William Penn in Armor

This painting, now on exhibit in Pennsylvania Icons at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, is based on a circa 1770 version of William Penn in Armor, itself a copy created by an unknown artist.

This portrait is one of only two definitive images known to exist of William Penn that were created from life. A copy of a lost original, William Penn in Armor depicts the founder of the Pennsylvania Colony as a young man being groomed for the life of a noble at a time when he was engaged in military service. Penn’s father, Sir William Penn, likely commissioned this work of art. The portrait’s Latin inscription reads, “AETIS 22 / 1666 OCTOBER 14” and “PAX QVAERITUR BELLO”, which translates roughly to “Peace is the goal of battle”.

In 1698, Francis Place sketched a chalk drawing, the only other known likeness created of Penn from life, and was possibly created without Penn’s knowledge. Quakers in the 1600s considered portraits a sign of vanity and avoided having their images captured.

Selected by CAP curator Katelyn Adam as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure, this portrait is a 19th century copy of an oil-on-canvas painted by an unknown artist. This painting, now on exhibit in Pennsylvania Icons at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, is based on a circa 1770 version, itself a copy created by an unknown artist. The lost original has been attributed to artist Sir Peter Lely, a 17th century Dutch painter who spent nearly his entire career in England creating portraits that featured fantasy and religious scenes.

Born to a prestigious family in London, England on October 24, 1644, Penn was the son of an admiral in the British Navy. His mother was the daughter of a wealthy merchant. As a result, Penn was well educated and had the opportunity to travel. Prior to becoming a Quaker and a pacifist, and long before he established the colony of Pennsylvania, Penn served in the military.

Interestingly, the original portrait, created in 1666, was painted around the time when Penn was exploring the Quaker faith to which he eventually converted.

Stop by The State Museum on Sunday, March 13, and join the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in celebrating the commonwealth’s 335th birthday on Charter Day. Pennsylvania was created when England’s King Charles II granted a charter to William Penn in 1681. Once each year the Pennsylvania State Archives exhibits the original document, for a limited time, at the State Museum.

For more history about William Penn, please visit Pennsbury Manor, Penn’s colonial estate in Bucks County and a stop along the Pennsylvania Trails of History.


About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.


About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.