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Garter ribbon that may have worn by Charles I for Van Dyck’s famous triple portrait is reunited with the painting

Release date: Sunday, 21 April 2013


A length of blue silk attached to a book in the Royal Collection may in fact be the Garter ribbon worn by Charles I as he sat for Sir Anthony van Dyck’s famous triple portrait, scientific analysis has revealed. The portrait and the ribbon will be brought together for the first time for In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion, which opens on 10 May, 2013, at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.  The exhibition explores the changing fashions of the rich and powerful of the Tudor and Stuart era through paintings, drawings and prints, as well as rare surviving examples of clothing and accessories.

Charles I placed great importance on the Order of the Garter, the oldest and highest order of chivalry in England – even wearing a Garter badge to his execution in 1649.  Fourteen years earlier, in Van Dyck’s portrait, the monarch is shown wearing a pale blue Garter ribbon around his neck. 

The inclusion of Van Dyck’s painting in the exhibition prompted Royal Collection Trust curators to take a closer look at four lengths of blue silk ribbon attached to the binding of a copy of the Eikon Basilike (‘The Royal Portrait’), now in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle.  The book was first published just ten days after the monarch’s execution on 30 January 1649 and quickly became one of the biggest-selling books of the 17th century, fuelling the image of Charles I as a martyr.

Curators were initially guarded about the authenticity of an inscription in the book which suggested it had been a gift from Charles I’s Master of Ceremonies, Sir Oliver Fleming, and that the silk was Charles I’s Garter ribbon.  Now, radiocarbon dating of a detached fragment of the silk ribbon has indicated that the fabric could indeed date from Charles I’s reign, placing it between 1631 and 1670.  Further investigation during conservation of the ribbon revealed that the silk is also the right width and length to have been a Garter ribbon – perhaps that recorded by Van Dyck.

Exhibition curator Anna Reynolds said, ‘It’s incredible to think that these lengths of silk could be the Garter ribbon in one of the most enduring images of the King.  The exhibition presented us with a unique opportunity to bring the painting back to life through some of the fashionable items that the artist recorded the King wearing and to compare the three-dimensional objects with the two-dimensional image.’

Van Dyck also painted the King wearing a lace collar or ‘cloak band’, popular during the mid-17th century.  A rare surviving lace collar, thought to have been worn by Charles I and dating from around the same year as the painting, has been lent to the exhibition by The Bowes Museum from its world-famous Blackborne Lace Collection. 

The exhibition In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 10 May – 6 October 2013.

Find out more about the discovery and the conservation of the Eikon Basilike and the Garter ribbon