Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King Charles II in Garter robes (1630 - 1685) 1660s

Studio of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80)

Portrait of King Charles II in Garter robes (1630 - 1685), Studio of Sir Peter Lely
Oil on canvas
17th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
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The present portrait is a head-and-shoulders derivation from the portrait of the King at full-length in garter robes in an interior. The original is not known, but a studio version was formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Portland at Welbeck, and other examples are still hanging at Boughton (Duke of Buccleuch collection) and Ragley Hall (collection of the Marquess of Hertford). A three-quarter length version is at Middleton Park.

This portrait is dated c.1667 Ė 8 by Collins Baker1 and this date would accord with the type of cravat that the King is wearing, which disappears after the 1660s. In the following decade Lely painted a further full-length portrait of the King in Garter robes (Euston Hall, collection of the Duke of Grafton in which the King is shown seated, whilst his Knights, including his brother the Duke of York and his cousin Prince Rupert are portrayed standing.

The Order of the Garter was of great significance to Charles II as it had been to his father. To Charles I it was the tie that bound the greatest noblemen to him, its Sovereign, and he instituted the compulsory practice of wearing the star of the Order on the outer garment in emulation of the Spanish orders of knighthood whose solemn pomp and formality had so impressed him when he visited Spain in 1623. The Garter was also a potent symbol for his son. It was the only dignity that he was able to grant on his adherents during his exile during the interregnum, when the ability to confer the Garter was the single most significant proof that the King still retained the mystique and the power of monarchy.

Lely and his studio produced a great many portraits showing the King and other knights in Garter robes. The robes themselves had been redesigned for Charles IIís first Garter chapter, and their magnificence was an irresistible subject for painting. Lely like Van Dyck before him also conceived of a great panting that would show the knights and all of the officers of the Order in procession. This project only reached the stage of preparatory drawings, but these, most of which are now in the collection of the British Museum, show the flamboyance and beauty of the Garter pageantry. In them, Lely was aware of his debt to Van Dyckís unrealised project to produce a Garter mural scheme for the Banquetting House at Whitehall. He owned the two panels of Van Dyckís preparatory grisailles sketches (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) which he may have been given by Charles II to assist him in the commission.

1. CH Collins Baker Lely and the Stuart Portrait Painters 1912 Vol. II p.126
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