Captain Arthur Blake was a member of the Seventeenth Light Dragoons, a British cavalry regiment that originated in 1759. The crested helmet in his left hand is embellished with the regiment’s badge, the Death’s Head with the motto ‘Or Glory,’ the final three letters of which are just visible here, upside down.
Joshua Reynolds became the first president of the Royal Academy during the year this painting was made. His dignified, formal portraits were highly sought after. This commanding painting, replete with symbolic military trappings, appropriately conveys Captain Blake’s position in society.