This oil painting shows John Milton (1608–1674) when he was about 21 and studying at Christ’s College, Cambridge.
It has been regarded as a good likeness, unlike some of the engraved portraits included at the start of Milton’s printed books. The biographer John Aubrey (1626–1697) describes how he saw the painting at the home of Milton’s widow, Elizabeth Minshull. Aubrey says that Milton was ‘scarce so tall as I am’; he had ‘light browne hayre’ and ‘dark gray’ eyes. ‘His widowe had his picture drawne very well … when [he was] a Cambridge schollar’, and it ‘ought to be engraven’ because ‘the Pictures before his bookes are not at all like him’ (Minutes of the Life of Mr John Milton, 1681).
What was Milton’s nickname?
Aubrey reveals that Milton ‘was so faire that they called him the Lady of Christ’s College’. This image of the writer, which portrays him with rosy lips and a smooth complexion, might help to explain how he got his nickname.
Why is it called the ‘Onslow’ portrait?
The painting is often described as the ‘Onslow’ portrait because it was once owned by Arthur Onslow (1691–1768), the speaker of the House of Commons during the reign of George II.