Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Prince Rupert of the Rhine 1800s

After Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641)

Portrait of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, After Sir Anthony Van Dyck
Oil on canvas
17th Century
69 x 60 inches 175 x 95.5 cm
European Private Collection
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This portrait of the young Prince is a copy of the portrait that Van Dyck painted c.1631 32 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) when Rupert was living at the court of Prince Frederick Henry of Orange in the Netherlands. Rupert, along with his parents, the Elector Frederick and Princess of Elizabeth of England, and two elder brother Charles Louis and Maurice, lived as an exile from the Kingdom of Bohemia.

In 1619 his father the Elector Palatine had asserted his rights to the Kingdom against the advice of his father-in-law King James I- and had been defeated by Emperor Ferdinand II in the following at the Battle of the White Mountain and ousted from his Kingdom. The brief reign of the royal couple caused them to be dubbed ''The Winter King and Queen.'' The Thirty Years War, of which this conflict was only a small part, was to dominate Rupert's life, much of which was spent in arms, fighting for the Protestant forces on the Continent, for his uncle King Charles I until 1646, and then for his cousin King Charles II in the naval battles of the Anglo-Dutch Wars in the 1660s and 70s. It is, of course, as the Royalist Cavalry commander at such battles as Edgehill and Marston Moor, and as the besieged Governor of Bristol, that he is best known to British history. The reckless courage and elegant appearance of Prince Rupert served contemporaries as well as now for the archetype of the dashing Cavalier, although the ruthlessness that he imported from the Continental wars earned him a particular animus from his Parliamentarian enemy.

This portrait suggests a rare period of ease in the young Prince's life. The original was painted as a companion to a more formal portrait of Prince Charles Louis (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), which shows its sitter in the same black, Spanish court costume, with starched golilla collar, sword and heavy gold chain. Charles Louis is posed with am air of seriousness appropriate to his greater age and responsibility (he was two years Rupert's senior and his father's heir) whereas Rupert lounges with an elegant contrapposto. The air of languor, the feeling less of melancholy than of cool detachment is a characterisitic of Van Dyck's characterisation that was to prove particularly successful in his treatment of English aristocratic sitters, and his mastery of this mood rapidly endeared him to the English Court, where, at King Charles I's request, he was already working by April 1632.

The portrait is notable by its cool harmonies of colour and tone. The black costume enables the painter to make a tour de force demonstration of his competence in suggesting texture and the fall of light on the silk, offset by the plain stone background of the plinth, floor and wall. This is enlivened by the green curtain, again a superb study in the fall of drapery, as well as a routine indication of status, and the naturalistic landscape viewed beyond. The hunting dog that attends the Prince is a conventional emblem of obedience and fidelity and an allusion to the Prince's own obedience to his royal parents1 but it may also be a portrait of an animal that was indeed owned by Rupert, just as the woods behind may actually suggest a country through which he liked to hunt.

1. Hans Vlieghe Van Dyck Exhibition Catalogue Royal Academy 1999 p.236
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