Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King James VI and I (1566 - 1625) 1604

 English School 

Portrait of King James VI and I (1566 - 1625),  English School
Oil on oak panel
17th Century
22 x 16 1/2 inches 55.9 x 41.9 cm
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This portrait of King James I derives from the royal portrait type produced by John de Critz (1555-1641) -versions: Dulwich Picture Gallery, Prado, Cambridge University, National Portrait Gallery etc.-at the time of the Scottish King's accession to the throne of England. Here the King is shown in a black costume, which -unlike the more elaborate gala and state garments of showpiece portraiture-represents the usual daily wear of the English and Scottish nobility. Around his neck is visible the blue ribbon of the Lesser George of the Garter, now faded to brown through instability of pigment.

This panel can be recognised as a corridor portrait, an image that would have been intended to hang prominently in a private house as an expression of loyalty and perhaps as the culmination of a series of English monarchs. The panel size also suggests this, being around the standard dimensions of c.21 x 17 inches which were conventionally employed for these images.

The accession of James to the throne of his cousin Elizabeth represented a considerable personal and political triumph. It could be regarded as a vindication of ambitions of his mother -whose memory James soon honoured by erecting a great tomb for her in Westminster Abbey and by obliterating Fotheringay Castle, the scene of her execution- and at the same time the acquisition of a territory whose economic and diplomatic power was considerably greater than that of his own. James's intentions in this latter direction were commendable, as he wished to set up Britain as the Peacemaker of Europe and chose Beati Pacifici (Blessed are the Peacemakers) as his personal motto. His ambitions in this were frustrated both by the contrary desires of the other parties and by his reliance -not unusual in an age dominated by the valido- on the ill-chosen and politically unskilled favourite, Buckingham. Although his rule was outwadly stable, many of its disputes, such as the limits of royal prerogative and parliamentary power, were a rehearsal of the bitter controversies that would unseat his son King Charles I. Nonetheless, the early Stuarts are also remembered as the most dedicated royal artistic patrons since the early reign of Henry VIII, and although King Charles I is acknowledged the greatest Maecenas, it must be remembered that it was during the reign of his father that Inigo Jones and Sir Anthony van Dyck began their careers at the English Court.
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