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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

Charles I (1600-1649) 1635-before June 1636

RCIN 404420

Queen's Drawing Room, Windsor Castle

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The painting was probably begun in the second half of 1635. In his letter to Lorenzo Bernini of 17 March 1636 the King expressed the hope that Bernini would execute ‘il Nostro Ritratto in Marmo, sopra quello che in un Quadro vi manderemo subiito’ (‘Our Portrait in Marble, after the painted portrait which we shall send to you immediately’). The bust was to be a papal present to Henrietta Maria and Urban VIII had specially arranged its creation at a time when hopes were entertained in Rome that the King might lead England back into the Roman Catholic fold.

The heads in the painting are drawn and modelled with a care and restraint unusual in Van Dyck. The contrast between the blue Garter ribbon and the three different colours of the King’s costume, which include three differently patterned lace collars; in the richly worked sky all contribute to turning a utilitarian commission into a work of great beauty.

Van Dyck had presumably been influenced by Lotto’s 'Portrait of a Man in Three Positions' (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), which was in Charles I’s collection at this time. The King’s portrait in turn probably influenced Philippe de Champaigne, who in 1642 painted a 'Triple Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu' (London, National Gallery) to assist Bernini (or another sculptor) with a bust of the Cardinal.

This proud image of kingship, with the monarch appearing as his own Holy Trinity, would acquire a retrospective poignancy as, six years later, Britain descended into years of Civil War, which ended with the abolition of the monarchy and the execution of Charles I in 1649.