Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King Charles I (1600–49) 

Studio of Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641)

Portrait of King Charles I (1600–49), Studio of Sir Anthony Van Dyck
Oil and Canvas
17th Century
27¼ x 22 in (69 x 56 cm)
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This portrait is a studio version of one of Van Dyck’s earliest portraits of the King. The three-quarter length original is lost, but is recorded in several versions of which the best is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Sir Oliver Millar suggests that this portrait may have been one of the ‘Nine pictures of or Royall self and most dearest Consort the Queene’ for which the artist was paid £444 on May 7th 16331. This head and shoulders version produced by Van Dyck’s studio suggests superbly the brittle hauteur of the King. It could be argued that it lacks the melancholy with which Van Dyck’s later portraits are imbued, bristling instead with a degree of hidalgo pride that was either more true of the monarch’s character at the beginning of his personal rule, or, perhaps, implied by the painter who was accustomed to finding it in his continental patrons at this date.

The portrait, with its upturned moustaches and aristocratic black costume is a magnificent image of nobility, a dramatic exercise conceived almost in monochrome, in which the black and white of King’s slashed doublet, ruff collar and white shirt are relieved only by the hint of silver in the Garter Star, just visible on his sleeve to the right and in the exquisitely rendered blue silk of the Garter ribbon, a colour unique to the Order and known as watchet, a kind of deep sky blue. The face has been rendered as an imperious mask or cold dignity, which gazes at the viewer impassively, lost almost in deep shadow to the right, where the light falls to emphasise the King’s hooded eyes, intensifying the sense of aristocratic languor and a feeling of social distance amounting to disdain.

1. Susan J. Barnes, Nora de Poorter, Sir Oliver Millar and Horst Vey Van Dyck a Complete Catalogue of the Paintings Yale 2004 p.520
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