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Willem de Poorter, An Allegorical Subject (The Just Ruler)

Key facts
Full title An Allegorical Subject (The Just Ruler)
Artist Willem de Poorter
Artist dates 1608 - after 1648
Date made probably 1636
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 50.2 × 37.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Presented by T. Humphrey Ward, 1889
Inventory number NG1294
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
An Allegorical Subject (The Just Ruler)
Willem de Poorter

This isn’t a portrait – it is an allegory, an attempt to represent an idea or ideal. Interpreting the symbolism, however, is difficult. We see a young man, upright and slightly aloof as he turns his head to look us directly in the eye.

The figure may be based on a book of iconology by Cesare Ripa which was published around this time. It includes an illustration of a sumptuously dressed woman wearing a wreath and breastplate and carrying a sceptre, and is captioned as Merit. If this was de Poorter’s intention here, then we might understand the image as an embodiment of Merit assuming worldly power, and so representing the Just Ruler. He stands literally enlightened by the sunshine from the high window, the sceptre indicating his authority; the crowns, his regal status; the cuirass (breastplate) his strength. He seems to reject the instruments and bombast of war however, in favour of the laws inscribed on the parchment.

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