Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King James I & VI (1566-1625) 

 English School Early Seventeenth Century 

Portrait of King James I & VI (1566-1625),  English School Early Seventeenth Century
Oil on Panel
17th Century
22 ½ by 17 ½ inches, 57 by 45 cm
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This portrait is a contemporary variant of the first likeness of James taken after his accession to the English throne in 1603. The original versions were made by John de Critz, who was, along with Robert Peake, a court ‘Serjeant Painter’ from 1605. In contrast to his earlier Scottish portraits, James is shown wearing the Order of the Garter, the highest English order of chivalry. Elizabeth I, James’ Tudor predecessor, was rarely portrayed in her Garter paraphernalia, but James, as the new Scottish king of England, was clearly keen to display his Englishness with the Garter sash. From this time onwards all English monarchs were generally portrayed with the Garter, with the blue sash alone, as seen here, an instantly recognisable sign of the wearer’s authority.

As the first likeness of James as King of England, De Critz’s image was in great demand due to the desire to show loyalty to the new Stuart regime. Good quality versions can be found in important collections, such as the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Prado, the National Portrait Gallery, and Loseley Park. The present panel would most likely have been commissioned as a ‘corridor portrait’, an image intended to hang prominently in a private house not only as an expression of loyalty to the new king, but, as the culmination of a series of English monarchs, loyalty to the crown itself. Recent conservation has revealed a picture of high quality, previously obscured by decades of old discoloured varnish. The drapery has been finished with a process of minute circular incisions designed to give the dress texture, while areas of under-drawing are visible in the head from where the artist used an officially sanctioned face mask as a template from which to work up the face.

The accession of James to the throne of his cousin Elizabeth represented a considerable personal and political triumph. It could be regarded as a vindication of ambitions of his mother - whose memory James soon honoured by erecting a great tomb for her in Westminster Abbey and by obliterating Fotheringay Castle, the scene of her execution- and at the same time the acquisition of a territory whose economic and diplomatic power was considerably greater than that of his own. James's intentions in this latter direction were commendable, as he wished to set up Britain as the Peacemaker of Europe and chose Beati Pacifici (Blessed are the Peacemakers) as his personal motto. His ambitions in this were frustrated both by the contrary desires of the other parties and by his reliance on the ill-chosen and politically unskilled favourite, Buckingham. Although his rule was outwardly stable, many of its disputes, such as the limits of royal prerogative and parliamentary power, were a rehearsal of the bitter controversies that would unseat his son King Charles I. Nonetheless, the early Stuarts are also remembered as the most dedicated royal artistic patrons since the early reign of Henry VIII, and although King Charles I is acknowledged the greatest Maecenas, it must be remembered that it was during the reign of his father that Inigo Jones and Sir Anthony van Dyck began their careers at the English Court.
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