Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Charles I 

Studio of Daniel Mytens (c.1590–1647)

Portrait of Charles I, Studio of Daniel Mytens
Oil on canvas
17th Century
28 3/4 x 24 inches (73cm x 61cm)
The Elne Elaine Russ Trust, Winnetka, Illinois
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This portrait, which is in unusually good condition, is a contemporary replica of a portrait painted by Daniel Mytens in 1626 [Scottish Private Collection]. Mytens was the principle painter at the Stuart court from the early 1620s to the mid 1630s. The portrait shows the king at the age of 26, just one year into his reign after the death of his father, James I.

Mytens had painted Charles frequently as Prince of Wales, and it is noticeable that his portraits of Charles as King assumed a more mature air. However, the portraiture of Charles at this time reveals the constraints within which artists in England then worked. As with all Jacobean, and even Elizabethan portraiture, the emphasis of the picture here is on conspicuous consumption, with as much focus on the rich and expensive texture of Charles’ clothing as on the likeness and character of the King. This in part explains why the picture is so vibrant and boldly coloured.

Such an approach to portraiture saw Mytens in good stead for most of his career in England. From the early 1620s he enjoyed a lucrative and stable period as court painter, seeing off challenges to his position from rivals such as Gerrit Van Honthorst, and continuing to update the King’s image with typical sensitivity amid the ever changing political situation. His 1629 portrait of Charles (now in the Metropolitan Museum), for example, shows a robust monarch well able to rule without Parliament, which had been dissolved that year.

But the arrival of Anthony Van Dyck in 1632 not only threatened Mytens’ prospects, but heralded a wholesale change in the nature of court portraiture. Van Dyck’s talent was known internationally, and his ability to impart a new (by English standards) sense of movement, incisive likenesses and luminous fabrics made Mytens’ work seem dated. Van Dyck’s portraits did not have to rely on highly detailed and coloured drapery to impart a sitter’s sense of power or wealth, and so the type of portraiture which had existed in England since the Tudor age, and which Mytens had perfected, became redundant. It soon became clear that Mytens’ dominance at court was over, and at some point between 1633-4 he left England for the Netherlands.
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