Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A pair of portraits of King James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark, 1595 

Adrian Vanson (d. before 1610)

A pair of portraits of King James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark, 1595, Adrian Vanson
Oil on canvas
16th Century
James VI: 17 ½ x 15 inches, 44.5 x 38 cm Anne 17 x 13 ¾ inches, 43 x 35 cm
Collection of James T. Gibson-Craig (1799-1886), Edinburgh; His estate sale, Christies, London, 23 April 1887, as follows: lot 47 James I, of England - inscribed 'Jacobus 6, D.G. Scotorum, aetat 29, 1595' lot 48 Queen Anne - inscribed 'Anna Regina Scotorum, 1595'; The separate lots bought together for £27.6.0 by Henby. English Private Collection.
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These portraits of King James VI of Scotland and his wife Anne of Denmark represent a rare survival of late sixteenth century Scottish art. The great majority of portraits of James and Anne post-date the union of the English and Scottish thrones after Elizabeth I’s death in 1603, and either allude to the new king as ‘James I & VI’ or simply ‘James I’. The present portraits, by James’ court painter Adrian Vanson, are inscribed 1595, and thus mark an important stage in the development of purely Scottish royal portraiture. They afford us a revealing glimpse of the monarch before his accession to the English throne, when his new status led to a transformation in his portraiture, as seen in the more majestic images painted in the early seventeenth century.

What may be considered as the prime version of the portrait of James VI, a larger version on panel in the collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, broadly repeats the composition seen here, but shows slightly more of the King’s body, and presents him in a slightly more elaborate doublet. The SNPG version does not, however, show the top of his sword, and although the present portrait has at some point been reduced in size, we can infer from the similarly cropped jewel in James hat (a diamond encrusted “A” for “Anne”, and a smaller “H” for the newly born Prince Henry) that the picture was probably not much larger than it appears today.

Adrian Vanson was first patronised by James VI in 1581, when he is recorded as being paid for two small paintings that had been presented by the King to the Calvinist preacher, Theodore Beza. The payment is evidence of James’ use of art as a diplomatic gesture, perhaps the most important example of which was the despatch of his own portrait in c.1585 to the Danish court as part of the marriage negotiations with Anne [private collection, formerly with Philip Mould Ltd]. In 1584 Vanson succeeded Arnold van Bronckhorst as official painter to the Scottish Court. Aside from overseeing every aspect of royal painting, including banners used for the coronation of Anne as Queen of Scotland in 1590, Vanson and his studio would have been responsible for the production of the King’s official likeness, such as the present portraits, either for prominent supporters, or for foreign courts. A miniature portrait of James, now lost, but probably based on the present likeness, was sent to James’ grandfather-in-law, Ulrich III of Mecklenburg. Vanson’s career inevitably suffered a setback after the court relocated to London in 1603, although his son, Adam de Colone, became a significant painter in Edinburgh after Vanson’s death in about 1610.

These portraits belonged in the 19th Century to James Thomson Gibson-Craig, a noted collector of art, documents and books. He was a member of the Bannatyne Club, established by Sir Walter Scott to print work on Scottish history and culture, and also knew artists such as Henry Raeburn and William Fettes Douglas. Gibson-Craig took a close interest in James VI, and presented to the Club in 1828 an edition of “Papers relative to the marriage of King James VI of Scotland, with the Princess Anna of Denmark, 1589; and the form and manner of her majesty's coronation at Holyroodhouse, 1590.”
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