Portrait of John Milton, c. 1629


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.

Full title:
The 'Onslow' portrait of John Milton
c. 1629
Painting / Image
© National Portrait Gallery
Usage terms

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Held by
National Portrait Gallery
NPG 4222

Related articles

Eve in Milton’s Paradise Lost: Poignancy and paradox

Article by:
Sandra M. Gilbert
Gender and sexuality, Politics and religion

Eve in Paradise Lost is vain vulnerable and evidently intellectually inferior to Adam. However, Sandra M Gilbert argues that, though Milton portrays her as a weak character, he also puts her on a par with Satan in her refusal to accept hierarchy and because of her ability to move the plot of Paradise Lost forward.

Philip Pullman's introduction to Paradise Lost

Article by:
Philip Pullman
Gender and sexuality, Politics and religion

Philip Pullman first read Paradise Lost as a schoolboy and was dazzled by the sound of its poetry as he and his classmates read it aloud. Since then, he has become fascinated by Milton's tremendous powers of storytelling, and the ways in which he creates narrative tension, complex moods and vivid characters.

‘Reason is but choosing’: freedom of thought and John Milton

Article by:
Roberta Klimt
Politics and religion

From his politics and religious writings to Paradise Lost, Roberta Klimt traces how the life and work of John Milton was guided by the principle of freedom of thought and how in doing so he challenged fundamental aspects of 17th-century society.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Paradise Lost

Created by: John Milton

Paradise Lost overview Paradise Lost is an epic poem (12 books, totalling more than 10,500 lines) written in blank ...