Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Double-sided portrait miniature, the obverse with a portrait of King Charles II (1630-1685), the reverse with a portrait of an unknown Gentleman, circa 1660 

Attributed to Nathaniel Thach (b.1617)

Double-sided portrait miniature, the obverse with a portrait of King Charles II (1630-1685), the reverse with a portrait of an unknown Gentleman, circa 1660, Attributed to Nathaniel Thach
Watercolour on vellum, put down on pasteboard
17th Century
Oval, 60mm (2 3/8in) (2)
At the Walker Galleries December 18th 1946; M Papier Collection
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This most unusual pair of portraits, depicting Charles II and an unknown gentleman, presents something of a mystery. Not only is the identity of the gentleman unknown but the artist also remains somewhat elusive. The portrait of Charles II would appear to be a unique depiction, not copied from a larger oil, as was so often the case. The portraits both date from the last years of the king in exile, just prior to his triumphant return to British shores in 1660. The portrait of the king would appear to be closest in date to the oil on copper by Gonzales Coques (circa 1656-7) and also to the portrait by Richard Gibson (Bonhams), which appears to a copy of the portrait of the king by an unknown artist at Castlemains (SNPG).

The strong colouring and convincing detail, particularly in the portrait of Charles II, share characteristics with the small body of work signed by the miniaturist Nathaniel Thach. These portraits show distinctively Continental artistic influences that make them quite unlike anything Samuel Cooper was producing back in England. Peter Oliver may have initially drawn Thach towards The Hague, where he would have been introduced to the Bohemian Court. After Oliver’s death in 1647, Thach continued to produce portraits of the exiled Royals, including portraits of Charles II after Adriaen Hanneman. One of these versions is signed 165-, suggesting that Thach could have been present in the Hague during the 1650s and may have remained there until just prior to the king’s departure, where this portrait may have taken.

The portrait of the unknown gentleman on the reverse of this portrait shows the sitter in distinctive dress. Wearing a simple white shirt, black ribbon and draped cloak, he affects the clothing of those associated with the artistic-intellectual circle into which Thach himself belonged. Similar costume can be seen worn by John Evelyn (1620-1706) (National Portrait Gallery, London) and in an engraving of Martin Clifford, friend of the poet Abraham Cowley and master of Charterhouse School (c.1624-1677) by Michael Vandergucht (1660-1725). As perhaps more of a skilled ‘gentleman amateur’, Thach was representative of the enlightenment, very much perhaps in the mould of a limner such as Matthew Snelling, for whom painting made up only part of his numerous interests.

While this pair of portraits is difficult to surmise, they provide an important historical link between Charles’ last years in exile and his entry into London as king. The intimate nature of a double portrait is especially intriguing, as it suggests a close relationship between the two sitters. Although this may never be apparent, the portrait of Charles is an important addition to his iconography at this critical point in his life.
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