Josceline Percy was the eldest son of Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland and his second wife, Elizabeth Howard, daughter of Theophilus Howard, 2nd Earl of Suffolk. He served as a Page of Honour at the coronation of Charles II in April 1661 and later that year became a member of the Inner Temple. On 23rd December 1662, he married Lady Elizabeth Wriothesley, the third daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton. and had two children Henry Percy, Lord Percy (1668-1669) and Lady Elizabeth (1667-1722). In 1668 on the death of his father he inherited all the family titles and estates, but only enjoyed such privilege for two years before his own untimely death when, lacking male heirs, his titles became extinct. The formidable Percy family numbered amongst their estates Alnwick, Northumberland, Syon, Middlesex, Northumberland House, London and Petworth, Sussex.
This portrait, set within a feigned oval frame of scrolled acanthus foliage – typical of Sir Peter Lely’s later works – is a head and shoulders version of a larger portrait of Josceline Percy, now at Petworth House, completed after 1670. Petworth was the seat of the Percys from the 12th century but passed by marriage to the 6th Duke of Somerset in 1682 when he married Elizabeth, Josceline Percy’s daughter. It seems likely that the version presented here would have been painted in the studio as a smaller variant intended for another relative or friend of the sitter, perhaps as a piece in memoriam.
Lely moved to England in the early 1640s and although first embarking on subject pictures he soon turned to the more profitable field of portraiture, an area he was to dominate due to a combination of technical skill, panache and good fortune – within a few years of his arrival the best portraitists in England had dwindled away – by 1646 Van Dyck and William Dobson had both died and Cornelius Johnson had returned to Holland. He went on to commit to canvas the likenesses of the leading figures of the Interregnum and anyone of consequence associated with the Restoration court of Charles II, being made principal painter to the king in 1661. His languorous silk clad beauties and swaggering bewigged courtiers have created the popular image of Restoration England. Partly due to his charming and urbane character his popularity and patronage was wide and with the aid of a team of assistants he maintained an enormous output.