Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King James VI & I (1566-1625) c.1618

 English School Early Seventeenth Century 

Portrait of King James VI & I (1566-1625),  English School Early Seventeenth Century
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Oil on oak panel
17th Century
29 5/8 x 19 ½ in (75.3 x 49.5cm)
 
Provenance:
Philip Mould & Company, 2003; Private collection, UK.
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The present work is a rare ‘corridor’ portrait of James VI & I and would originally have been displayed (possibly as part of set), in the long gallery of a Jacobean house.

King James was notoriously reluctant to sit for his portrait and for the most part his iconography from his early reign derives from a portrait by John de Critz the Elder painted in 1606.(1) This head-type or ‘pattern’ remained the most ‘up-to-date’ likeness of James until as late as 1618, when James sat to portrait painter Paul van Somer [see Royal Collection: RCIN 401224]. The head-type seen in the present work derives from this 1618 likeness, although unlike the Van Somer portrait, the present image is intended less as a profound study of character, a glimpse of James Stuart the man, than as an icon of kingship. The composition of this portrait also relates to a memorial print engraved by Willem de Passe and published by George Fearebeard in 1621, in which James is shown seated beside his deceased son Henry, Prince of Wales. This likeness of James, which had presumably become an emotive image within the popular conscience, was later separated from the rest of the composition and reproduced by other print-makers including Roger Daniell [British Museum, O.8.145]. It is unclear whether the present work derives from this popular image or if it was a composition already in circulation prior to the publication of de Passe’s print. Dendrochronological analysis (or ‘tree-ring dating’) of the panel on which this work was painted suggests a plausible creation date of between 1598 and 1608, although we do know that some panels were laid-up for a number of years prior to being used.

This image of James is rich with symbolism - to the realistic face-mask of Stuart portraiture has been added a rudimentary mantle of ermine, the most immediately legible symbol of the monarch after the crown, and in line with the King’s minatory and defensive role, the sword of authority. Here the mediaeval overtones - resembling the sword-bearing early English kings in contemporary prints and histories, such as those seen in Henry Holland’s Baziliologia of 1618 - are given a more immediate twist with the inscription ‘fidei defensor’ on the blade, alluding to the title first conferred on King Henry VIII and since used by all English monarchs and here by the first king of England and Scotland. James is shown wearing the collar and badge of the Greater George of the Order of the Garter and as with the inscription on the sword, this suggests both a dynastic continuity and a novelty, since James was the first Scottish monarch to be Sovereign of the Order of the Garter.

(1) R. Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, (London, 1969), vol.1, p.179.
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