King Charles I of England (1600 – 1649)

Studio of: Anthony van Dyck
1599 – 1641

King Charles I of England (1600 – 1649)

Painted circa 1636

Oil on canvas: 51 3/16 x 40 inches, 128 x 100 cm

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Provenance

  • Private collection, Rome, until 2011.

The present portrait probably dates from circa 1636 – 1640, in the period after Van Dyck’s return from Flanders, when his already close relationship with the King and his family intensified. An imposing early image of the King, it is a fine version from Van Dyck’s studio or his close circle, of a type for which no certain original by the artist has survived. It most likely derives from the famous half-length in armour in the collection of the Duke of Norfolk at Arundel Castle, where the King’s left hand is shown resting on a helmet with a baton in his right hand. In our portrait, however, as in other studio versions, his right arm rests on a sphere or globe, the symbol of earth and therefore of terrestrial power.

Van Dyck settled in London in April 1632 and not long after on the 5th July was knighted by the King and appointed ‘Principal Painter in Ordinary to their Majesties’. His task was to provide portraits of the King and his family, and in this way Van Dyck’s role was not unlike that of Velasquez in the court of Philip IV of Spain. The variety of the artist’s portraits of the King was astonishing, portraying Charles I in full royal splendour as the personification of the divine rights of kings, and depicting different facets of his personality.

As well as the various portraits of the King in robes and in armour, such as the present work, other pivotal pieces included Charles I with Henrietta Maria and Prince Charles and Princess Mary, (1632, Royal Collection), in which the King is presented as the supreme patriarch, a father figure who commands and protects his people as he does his own family. Of his great equestrian portraits, Charles I on horseback, (1638, National Gallery, London), shows him as the conquering hero and emperor of Great Britain at a time when there was great civil unrest. A third aspect of kingship was captured in Charles a la Chasse, (1635, Louvre, Paris), portrayed as the ultimate courtier – elegant, poised and relaxed, commanding his surroundings with an air of serene self-possession and nobility. With such a prodigious output, Van Dyck employed a considerable studio of assistants to provide replicas and supply versions of these for his royal patrons to distribute to loyal subjects and foreign ambassadors.