Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of infant James II 1636c.

Circle of Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641)

Portrait of infant James II, Circle of Sir Anthony Van Dyck
Oil on canvas
17th Century
16 x 12 1/2 inches 40.6 x 31.8 cm
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This charming study of the young Duke of York derives from the portrait of The Three Eldest Children of Charles I (Galleria Sabauda, Turin), which was painted by Van Dyck in 1635, asa gift from Queen Henrietta Maria to her sister Christina Duchess of Savoy.

The original is described by Millar as the ‘most exquisitely painted of all Van Dyck’s groups of the royal children and one of the most ravishing works from any stage of his career’1 and this copy retains the freshness of the original. The Turin painting shows the Duke of York standing in the company of his elder brother the Prince of Wales (1630 – 1685) later King Charles II, who rests his hand on the head of a large spaniel and their sister Mary Princess Royal (1631 – 1660). The young prince carries a quince in his hands and roses lie at his feet, allusions, Millar suggests2, to fertility and an echo of the sentiments in Robert Herrick’s Poet’s Good Wishes for the Most Hopeful and Handsome Prince the Duke of York: ‘May the Graces and the Hours/ Strew his hopes and him with flowers.’3

The irony of these wishes was revealed by the events of James’s life. Alone of his siblings he produced a line of descendants, fathering a son, James Stuart, the ‘Old Pretender’, who was in turn the father of Charles Stuart ‘The Young Pretender’ and his brother Henry Cardinal Duke of York, but he was succeeded not by them but by his daughters Mary and Anne. He himself was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, living the rest of his life as an exile in France.

A touching coda to Herrick’s hopes for the Duke comes in his own verdict on himself, late in life when at a French court wedding he described himself as ‘too unlucky.’4 This portrait, therefore represents a moment of particular happiness in the Prince’s life before it was disrupted by the troubles of his father’s reign and the descent into the Civil War of 1642.
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