Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of James I of England and James VI of Scotland 1566-1625 

Adrian Vanson (d. before 1610)

Portrait of James I of England and James VI of Scotland 1566-1625, Adrian Vanson
Oil on Panel
16th Century
Collection of Count van Rechteren Limpurg-Almelo, The Netherlands
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Puported to be the marriage portrait sent to the Danish Court to seduce, Anne, his future wife This portrait has been referred to by Sir Roy Strong, as being one of the most important portraits of James VI and it is unarguably the most significant image of him remaining in private hands. It has been dated to c. 1585, when James was still only King of Scotland and would have been around nineteen years of age.

It is of particular significance in the study of the iconography of James, in that it is the only known image of him in his late teens. His iconography is relatively incomplete for a royal figure, due to James'' apparent personal dislike of sitting for his picture and to the decline in the standards of portrait production in his reign. Weldon states that James could never be brought to sit for the taking of that [picture], which is the reason of so few good pieces of him.

However, in this portrait unlike almost all others of him, we gain a sense of the individual, as well as the more commonly encountered divine Stuart persona - as perceived in the renderings of De Critz and Van Sommer. This apparent individuality is attributable perhaps as much to the physical change in the sitter from youth to manhood, as to the probable purpose for which the image was intended. We also become aware for the first time of the physical characteristics and the alleged homosexuality for which he was renowned. Weldon in his Court and Character of King James gives a contemporary description of his appearance:

He was of middle stature, more corpulent through his cloathes than in his body...of a naturally timorous disposition...his eye large, ever rowling after any stranger came in his presence...

The German inscription and its provenance suggest that the picture was commissioned for an intended Continental destination. In 1585, the approximate year that this portrait was painted, an embassy was sent to Denmark from Scotland to begin marriage negotiations with the Danish court. The official language of the Danish court was German. This ultimately led to the marriage between James and Anne of Denmark in 1595. An exchange of images was the most common and accepted form of preliminary contact in potential alliances of this kind. Sir James Melville mentions in his Memoirs, that in 1588 James's embossier returned from both Denmark and Navarre with paintings of his prospective brides.

The unique nature of this image adds weight to the speculation that this was a marriage portrait designed to entice a royal bride from the Danish court. While there is no surviving record of the acceptance of a pre-Nuptial portrait of James in Denmark, an early inventory of pictures belonging to King Christian in 1600 at the castle of Kronborg, tantalizingly lists a portrait of the English King.() This must refer to a portrait of his brother-in-law, James I which was subsequently moved along with the other royal portraits to the castle of Frederiksborg. It would appear most likely that this portrait of James is the one that was recorded at Kronborg, although there is no record of how it entered the collection of Count van Rechteren Limpurg-Almelo, where it was recorded in 1936. However, a member of the Rechteren family was a distinguished diplomat in the late seventeenth century and it is possible that it was acquired directly from Frederiksborg at around this date.

This portrait is almost certainly the product of Adrian Vanson, an artist of Flemish origins, who had by May 1584 succeeded Arnold Bronckorst as official painter to the Scottish Court. Vanson was active at Court until at least 1601 and unlike Bronckorst, received some form of civic patronage. In December 1585 he was freely admitted as a burgess of Edinburgh for guid and thankfull sendee to be done to the guid towne under the express condition that he tak and Instruct prenteisses. Vanson was apparently the only painter at Court entrusted with portraiture at this period and a further three portraits of James have been attributed to him.

Letter from Sir Roy Strong, 22nd July 1987.
Roy Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 178.
Sir A. Weldon, The Court and Character of King James, 1650, reprinted by G.Smeeton, London, 1817, p.55.
Op.cit. note 3, pp. 55-9.
Sir James Melville, Memoirs, Bannatyne Club 1827.
Povl Eller, Painters of Royal Portraits in Denmark 1630-82, Copenhagen 1971.
Scottish Records Office, Accounts of the Treasurer of Scotland, E22/6,
fo. 184. Vanson in place of Arnold Brukhorst was allowed a half-yearly fee
of 50.
Extracts from the Records of the Burgh of Edinburgh 1573-1589, Edinburgh 1882, p.446.
See: Duncan Thomson, The Life and Art of George Jamesone, Oxford 1974, p.46-8.
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