‘Petrarch’s First Sight of Laura’ large oil painting by O’Neil

By O'Neil, Henry Nelson (British, 1817-1880)


Of an impressive size with an important provenance, the artwork portrays a famous love story from the works of a renowned Italian Renaissance poet.


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This exceptional oil painting is by a renowned Victorian painter, Henry Nelson O’Neil (British, 1817-1880). Painted in around 1840, it depicts a part of a famous love tale between Petrarch and Lauren.

Petrarch (1304-1374) is a renowned poet of the early Italian Renaissance. Laura was the love of Petrarch’s life and the main subject of his work. Despite her great influence on the Italian poet’s work, not much indication of who she was is given in his writings. However, she has been identified as Laura de Noves of Avignon. According to the tale, the first meeting of Petrarch and Laura took place in St. Claire Church in Avignon in 1327, a scene masterfully depicted by Henry Nelson O’Neil in the impressive painting in Mayfair Gallery’s collection.

O’Neil depicted Laura in the centre of the painting, beautifully dressed in light fabrics adorned with floral motifs, her head covered with a veil. She is kneeling, her head down looking at the book in front. She is portrayed in a deep state of reverence while Petrarch stands on the side directly looking at her. His body posture suggests he is in deep thought, thinking about Laura. The two protagonists are surrounded by a group of other figures, all dressed less ornately, however, due to the artist’s skilful play of colours to depict light, the viewer’s attention is set on Laura and Petrarch.

The large painting is framed in an elegant carved giltwood frame. In the bottom centre is a plaque reading ‘Petrarch’s first sight of Laura / in the Church at Avignon. / Henry O’Neil, A.R.A’.

In 1840, the artwork was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, later entering the collection of the Hermitage guest house on the Isle of Wight. Now called Bourne Country Hotel, it was originally built for a lady in waiting to Queen Victoria.

Henry Nelson O’Neil is especially known for genre paintings with historical and literary subjects. His works can be found in numerous museums such as the Royal Museums Greenwich and the Foundling Museum.

The high quality of execution, impressive size, the renowned artist and subject as well as important provenance, make this painting a very desirable addition to one’s collection of fine art.

Canvas: Height 129cm, width 176cm,
Frame: Height 165cm, width 207cm, depth 12cm


- Exhibited at Royal Academy, London in 1840 (no. 505). 
- In the collection of the Hermitage guest house on the Isle of Wight built for a lady in waiting to Queen Victoria. 


Artist / Maker
By O'Neil, Henry Nelson (British, 1817-1880)
Country of Origin
Date of Manufacture
c. 1840
Early 19th Century
Religious, Renaissance
Oil on Canvas


165 cm / 65 inches
207 cm / 81.5 inches
12 cm / 4.7 inches


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