A FASCINATING painting which helps to explain Oxford's role in the English Civil War can now be seen at the Ashmolean Museum.

The creation of King Charles I's Oxford Parliament in 1644 placed the city at the centre of the Royalist cause and it became the headquarters of the Cavalier forces.

Now, as part of a festival to mark the 400th anniversary of the birth of museum creator Elias Ashmole, the Beaumont Street attraction has acquired a portrait by William Dobson, painted during the English Civil War.

The portrait, commissioned by Colonel John Russell in the winter of 1645-1646, is a unique piece of history from those troubled times and was unveiled on Monday.

It shows Royalists Prince Rupert, Colonel William Legge and Colonel John Russell meeting in Oxford, then home to the Royal court in exile at a time when hopes of victory for the side were fading.

Director of the Ashmolean Dr Xa Sturgis said: "I am immensely grateful to the Arts Council, which has allocated this important painting, made in Oxford, to the Ashmolean Museum.

"It comes to us on the 400th anniversary of the birth of our founder, Elias Ashmole who, as a staunch Royalist, would have approved thoroughly of this painting hanging in the Ashmolean."

The portrait, worth an estimated £875,000, has been acquired by the museum under the acceptance in lieu scheme, run by the Arts Council.

The scheme allows taxpayers to transfer important works of art and heritage objects into public ownership while paying inheritance tax.

The anniversary celebrations continue on Friday when there will be a civil war procession in Broad Street, starting at 6.30pm.

An actor playing King Charles I will be on horseback, and the procession will arrive at the museum about 7pm, where there will be a Live Friday late-night opening to celebrate the anniversary.

The evening will have a civil war theme, brought to life by re-enactors from the Earl of Manchester's Regiment of Foote, the Passamezzo company of singers and players and historical interpretation company Past Pleasures.

Actor Craig Hamlyn, who is playing Elias Ashmole, said: "It’s a privilege to portray an important man like Elias Ashmole and a lot of fun to do it on his 400th birthday.

"Although Ashmole was a fervent Royalist it is a great thing that the museum that bears his name is open to everyone no matter their background or beliefs."

The painting is the first by William Dobson to become part of an Oxford collection.

He succeeded Sir Anthony van Dyck as the leading portraitist in the court of King Charles I and his time in Oxford came at the peak of his short career.

He died in London in 1646.

In 1645 Elias Ashmole had accepted the post of gentleman of the ordnance of the Oxford garrison and the interests that led to his foundation of the museum in 1683 were stimulated by his close contact with Royalists at the Oxford court.