Portrait of Alexander Pope by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1719


This portrait shows the poet and literary critic Alexander Pope (1688‒1744) holding a copy of The Iliad ‒ the book that made his fortune. Over the course of six years, Pope laboured on a translation of Homer’s Greek epic poem, and published it by subscription between 1715 and 1720. Ultimately, it earned him the grand sum of £5,000 and enabled him to buy his famous villa in Twickenham.

What’s special about this painting?

This oil painting was made by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646‒1723), the celebrated court artist who later became Pope’s friend and neighbour. Several versions were produced, with the first being painted in 1716. This copy, dated 1719, is the only one where we can glimpse Greek letters at the edge of the page ‒ the opening of The Iliad, Book IX.

Pope’s public image

Pope was fiercely concerned about protecting his public image, and he had every reason to be. Having suffered from Pott’s disease (tuberculosis of the bone), he was only 1.4 metres tall, with a hunched back and an eye inflammation. In his day, he was caricatured for his unusual appearance, but paintings like this one flatter him by giving him peachy skin and an upright posture. His fame led to him being shown in more portraits than any other English writer of his generation.

Full title:
Alexander Pope by Sir Godfrey Kneller
Painting / Image
Sir Godfrey Kneller
© Private Collection
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