Kate Middleton and Prince William had their first official portrait painted together. it was revealed by the couple on a visit to their namesake county of Cambridgeshire in England on Thursday.
The work is significant in its composition as it follows the established line of traditional royal portraiture, used historically to imbue its subjects with an aura of royal power and longevity.
The full-length rendering of the couple, unveiled at the Fitzwilliam Museum, was painted by artist Jamie Coreth who has previously painted William’s aunt, Princess Anne. It was commissioned in 2021 by the Cambridgeshire Royal Portrait Fund as a gift to the county.
Speaking of the commission, Coreth said:
“It has been the most extraordinary privilege of my life to be chosen to paint this picture. I wanted to show Their Royal Highnesses in a manner where they appeared both relaxed and approachable, as well as elegant and dignified.
“As it is the first portrait to depict them together, and specifically during their time as The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, I wanted the image to evoke a feeling of balance between their public and private lives. The piece was commissioned as a gift for the people of Cambridgeshire, and I hope they will enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed creating it.”
The focus of the image in terms of symbolism is firmly on Kate who is shown wearing many items of cultural and historical significance.
First, despite the portrait being historic in theme and composition, the duchess’s dress is strikingly modern. The metallic silk-blend midi dress with frilled sleeves looks like one Kate wore by the indie designer The Vampire’s Wife.
The royal first debuted a shimmery green dress by the designer in 2020 during a visit to Ireland. It was worn to a reception in Dublin which was hosted by the British Ambassador and saw Kate praised for her patriotic nod with its Irish green color.
This fashion choice at the time was noted as an example of Kate’s diplomatic style of dressing, a style which she has developed throughout her married life and is a fitting to be recorded for posterity.
Aside from the ultra-modern dress, Kate is also wearing a pair of pop-culture pumps in the form of what appear to be Manolo Blahnik’s “Hangisi” high heels.
This style of shoe was made famous in the movie version of the hit TV show sex and the city with Sarah Jessica Parker’s character, Carrie Bradshaw, receiving a pair in place of an engagement ring.
Blahnik “Hangisi” pumps are currently priced at $1,125 and Kate’s pair appear to be in the shade “green satin.”
Though her fashion may mark Kate as a modern princess, the jewelry she is wearing in the portrait sends a strong royal dynastic message, being previously worn by some of the most iconic women in the monarchy’s thousand year history.
Two key jewels worn to Kate’s late mother-in-law Princess Diana. These comprise a pair of earrings which were a wedding present to Diana from her family jewelers on the occasion of her marriage in 1981 and a three-strand pearl and diamond bracelet.
Kate has often worn pieces of jewelry that had formerly belonged to Diana as a way of keeping the princess a part of her and William’s life moving forward. When the prince gave Kate his mother’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring in 2010 he said:
“It’s my mother’s engagement ring. So I thought it was quite nice because obviously she’s not going to be around to share any of the fun and excitement of it all—this was my way of keeping her sort of close to it all.”
Perhaps the most important jewel Kate wears in the portrait is a large pearl and diamond brooch with a pearl pendant which is known as “The Duchess of Cambridge brooch.” This originally belonged to Princess Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge, the daughter-in-law of King George III.
Augusta had a famous collection of jewels and left the brooch, on her death in 1889 at the age of 91, to her daughter Princess Mary Adelaide of Teck who was Queen Elizabeth II’s great-grandmother.
The queen inherited the brooch in 1953 and has worn it throughout her reign with and without the pearl pendant.
Kate has often been loaned important pieces of jewelry from the queen’s own collection, seen as a mark of respect from the monarch and this loan from the Duchess of Cambridge’s brooch to the current duchess is the first time Kate has been seen publicly wearing the piece.
Kate is not the only party in the portrait to have symbolism added to their outfit, William too showed a sartorial nod to the county he takes his title from by wearing a Cambridge blue tie.
Another notable element of the painting is the tactile composition of the portrait, with Kate and William shown locked in each other arms, presenting an image of a strong and unified couple.
These elements combine to create an image of a modern royal team who, though enshrined in a historical institution, also have many modern elements that they will carry through with them when they eventually take on the roles of King and Queen.