Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria, c.1632 

Studio of Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641)

Portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria, c.1632, Studio of Sir Anthony Van Dyck
Oil on canvas
17th Century
43 x 33 in (107 x 85.9 cm)
Maple and Co. London, August 1901; Collection of Baron Etienne van Zuylen van Nyevelt van der Haar
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This image of the Queen, painted during the height of her influence at court portrays her calmly composed with folded hands and a gentle air. Known for her piety and innocence, Van Dyck has created a distinctly feminine image of Henrietta Maria, capturing in her slightly downcast expression the wifely defferentiality on which she prided herself. Through the positioning of her empty but cradled hands he has indicted the sitter's anticipation of motherhood (1).

Psychologically penetrating, his representation is not only illustrative of the subject's royalty but of her desirable modesty and fertility. Ultimately Van Dyck has created an image which advertises the Queen as she would have wished to have been perceived by her admirers.

Firmly installed as ''Principal Painter in Ordinary to their Majesties'' by 1632, Van Dyck is known to have created at least eleven primary portrayals of his royal patron and patroness. Among them was our likeness. As a letter from George Con attests, this portrait was commissioned by the Cardinal Protector, Barberini in 1636, who was to known to have exchanged gifts of pictures in the past with the King (2). For much of his time as the King's painter, Van Dyck's studio was consumed with the output of royal images for court supporters in England and abroad. It was the artist's sensitivity to the sitter's image which placed him in great favour with his patrons, both royal and otherwise. His depictions of English ladies had so convinced foreign eyes of the court''s monopoly on beautiful ladies that Prince Rupert''s youngest sister, Sophia was surprised to find the Queen to be a small, badly-postured woman with ''teeth protruding from her mouth like guns from a fort'' (3). A likeness of the Queen similar to ours currently resides at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In his prime, Van Dyck's success in England was unparalleled. He lived well on the money he earned from his commissions, enough so to employ six servants and to amass his own collection of artwork. At court he enjoyed the company of men such as the Marquess of Newcastle and Endymion Porter. His prolific career came to a close in 1641, in the period of turmoil prior to the Civil War.

Born in 1609 as the youngest daughter of Henri IV of France and Marie de Medici, Henrietta Maria was proposed as a suitable candidate for a match with the future Charles I from an early age. Married by proxy in May 1625, Henrietta landed in England the following month and began her life as Queen of England at the age of sixteen. As a devout French Catholic in a self-consciously Protestant English court, the Queen's first years in England were not happy ones. Her religious convictions coupled with Lord Buckingham's attempts to turn Charles against her made relations with her husband increasingly uncomfortable until their reconciliation in 1628. The birth of the future Charles II followed soon after in May1630. She subsequently became the mother of Mary, (1631) the future Queen and wife of William of Orange, James II (1633), Elizabeth (1636), Henry, Duke of Gloucester (1640), and Henrietta, Duchess of Orleans (1644).

The Queen's role in her husband's court proved to be a complicated one. The combination of her frivolity and her emotional influence over the King concerned courtiers such as Lord Wentworth, eager for favours. Her continuing devotion to her religious beliefs also created conflict. Emissaries from Rome and English Catholics formed a large segment of her court circle. She kept an open chapel at Somerset House and employed the services of a private confessor. George Conn, one of the Queen's circle and the Pope's representative in England in 1636, wrote of her;

She is without sin, except of omission... In respect to the faith
or sins of the flesh she is never tempted. When she confesses or
communicates she is so absorbed as to astonish the confessor and
everybody. In her bedroom no one may enter but women, with whom
she sometimes retires and indulges in innocent amusements. She
sometimes suffers from melancholy, and then she likes silence. When
she is in trouble she turns with her heart and soul to God. She has little
care for the future, trusting altogether in the king.(4)

Coupled with her involvement in court intrigues, many viewed her unwavering sense of Catholic piety as incompatible with ''trusting altogether in the king''. This was an opinion which gathered force and germinated in a climate of political unrest.

During the events of the Civil War Henrietta Maria became actively involved in raising funds and troops in support of the King. Arranging mercenary marriages for her children, pawning the crown jewels, attempting landings in munitions ships and flying to her husband's side at the Battle of Edgehill, the events of her life at this war-torn period read like that of a fictional heroine. While fleeing the approach of the Essex army the Queen stopped to give birth to her youngest child before escaping to the safety of France in July 1644. Living under the protection of the queen regent at St. Germain, she was later joined by her children shortly before the execution of her husband. After 1648, Henrietta became solely dependent upon the good will of others for her livelihood. Impoverished and forced to leave France she was not to return again to England until 1660. Amidst failing health and what she perceived to be an English indifference to her sufferings, she died near Paris after ingesting opium.

1. The dating of this portrait to 1636 would suggest that the Queen was pregnant at the time.

2. O. Millar, ''Notes on Three Pictures by Van Dyck'', Burlington Magazine, July 1969, p. 417.

3. O. Millar, Van Dyck in England, (1982), pp. 26 -7.

4. Public Record Office Transcripts, Con to Barberini, 13 - 23 August, 1633.
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