Kate Middleton and Prince William have had their first official portrait painted together. It was unveiled by the couple on Thursday during a visit to their namesake county of Cambridgeshire, England.
The work is significant in its composition as it follows the established lineage of traditional royal portraiture, historically used to give their subjects an aura of royal power and longevity.
The full-length portrait of the couple, unveiled at the Fitzwilliam Museum, was painted by artist Jamie Coreth, who previously painted William’s aunt, Princess Anne. It was commissioned by the Cambridgeshire Royal Portrait Fund as a gift to the county in 2021.
Speaking of the commission, Coreth said:
“It was the most extraordinary privilege of my life to have been chosen to paint this picture. I wanted to portray Her Royal Highnesses as relaxed and approachable as well as elegant and dignified.
“As this is the first portrait of them together, and particularly during their time as Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, I wanted the image to evoke a sense of balance between their public and private lives. The piece was commissioned as a gift to the people of Cambridgeshire and I hope they will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it.”
The focus of the image in terms of symbolism is clearly Kate, who is shown with many items of cultural and historical importance.
First, although the portrait is historical in subject and composition, the Duchess’ dress is strikingly modern. The metallic silk blend midi dress with ruffled sleeves looks like one worn by Kate from indie designer The Vampire’s Wife.
The royal debuted a shimmering green gown by the designer for the first time during a visit to Ireland in 2020. It was worn to a reception in Dublin hosted by the British Ambassador, where Kate was praised for nodding his Irish green color patriotically.
This fashion choice of the time has been cited as an example of Kate’s diplomatic style of dress, a style she has developed throughout her married life that is a fitting dress to capture for posterity.
Aside from the ultra-modern dress, Kate also wears a pair of pop culture pumps in the form of Manolo Blahnik’s “Hangisi” heels.
This style of shoe was made famous in the film version of the hit TV show Sex and the City featuring Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw receiving a pair instead of an engagement ring.
Blahnik ‘Hangisi’ pumps are currently priced at $1,125 and Kate’s pair appear to be a ‘green satin’ colorway.
Though her fashion may mark Kate as a modern-day princess, the jewelry she wears in the portrait sends out a strong royal dynastic message, previously worn by some of the most famous women in the monarchy’s millennial history.
Two key jewels worn belonged to Kate’s late mother-in-law, Princess Diana. These consist of a pair of earrings, which Diana received as a wedding present from her family jeweler on the occasion of her marriage in 1981, and a three-row bracelet of pearls and diamonds.
Kate has often worn jewelry that used to belong to Diana to carry the princess on in her and William’s life. When the Prince presented Kate with his mother’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring in 2010, he said:
“It’s my mother’s engagement ring. So I thought he was quite nice because obviously she won’t be around to share in the fun and excitement of it all – it was my way of keeping her kind of close to everything.”
Perhaps the most important jewel Kate wears in the portrait is a large pearl and diamond brooch with a pearl pendant, known as the ‘Duchess of Cambridge’s brooch’. This originally belonged to Princess Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge, a daughter-in-law of King George III.
Augusta had a famous collection of jewels and left the brooch to her daughter Princess Mary Adelaide of Teck, great-grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II, on her death in 1889 at the age of 91.
The Queen inherited the brooch in 1953 and wore it with and without a pearl pendant throughout her reign.
Kate has often been loaned important pieces of jewelery from the Queen’s own collection, which is seen as a mark of respect from the monarch, and this loan of the Duchess of Cambridge’s brooch to the current Duchess marks the first time Kate has worn the piece in public.
Kate isn’t the only party in the portrait whose outfit has symbolism added to it, William also made a stylish nod to the county to which he owes his title by sporting a blue Cambridge tie.
Another notable element of the painting is the tactile composition of the portrait, where Kate and William are shown in each other’s arms, presenting an image of a strong and united couple.
These elements combine to create an image of a modern royal team which, while anchored in a historical institution, also brings many modern elements with it as they eventually assume the roles of king and queen.