Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of the Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628) 1625c.

Studio of Gerrit van Honthorst 

Portrait of the Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628), Studio of Gerrit van Honthorst
Oil on canvas
17th Century
28 x 23 inches 71.1 x 21.6 cm
The Rt Hon the Viscountess Chaplin sale Christie''s 3rd March 1942 lot 33 (as a portrait of King Charles I)
Buckingham, who was praised for his good looks and charm quickly became a favourite of James I. Under James he rose from the title of Viscount Villiers in 1617 to Earl of Buckingham before being awarded a Marquisate in the following year. When questioned about his admiration for George Villiers, the King, who referred to his favourite as his ''Sweet Steenie'', is said to have responded by proclaiming, ''You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else…Christ had his John, and I have my George''. As a consequence, Buckingham found himself in a position to wield influence amongst courtiers and accumulate a number of sinecures, and, in 1623, a Dukedom. The Duke's impetuous behaviour and manipulation of the royal family gained him many opponents and is reputed by historians to have driven an irreparable wedge between court and country factions. Despite fierce opposition by Parliament to the Duke's ever-increasing status and his readiness to declare war on France and Spain, his influence was not diminished by the death of James in 1625. Although he bore the responsibility for engineering a marriage between Charles I and Henrietta Maria, a prospect which led indirectly to a badly managed war with Spain, calls for Buckingham's dismissal went unheeded by the King. Until his death in 1628 at the hand of an assassin, many believed that England was governed more by Buckingham than by its sovereign.

Gerrit van Honthorst is best known to art history as one of the leading lights of the Utrecht Caravaggist School, who assimilated the early Baroque painting of Northern Italy to their native manner. Honthorst himself developed such an accomplished tenebrist manner that he was known during his period in Italy as Gherardo delle Notti. Paintings such as Saint Sebastian (c.1620-23 National Gallery 4503) and Christ before the High Priest (1617 National Gallery 3679) both demonstrate how fully Honthorst had mastered Caravaggio's sense of drama and portentous lighting. In portraiture, however, and especially in his later works, Honthorst remains a member of the Dutch School, as the Buckingham portraits demonstrate. The type derives from the figure of the Duke on the right of The Duke of Buckingham and his Family 1628 (Royal Collection Hampton Court; variant National Portrait Gallery), in which the Italian flavour is limited to the delicate sfumato of the flesh tones and the concern with bold shadowing of the beard and back of the head. Honthorst was brought to England by Buckingham in 1628, but his stay was brief, since the Duke his patron was murdered in that year. Later works produced on the Continent, such as The Queen of Bohemia 1642 (National Gallery NG 6362), are far more typically products of the Anglo-Dutch School.
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