Portrait of King Charles I and Henrietta Maria

After Van Dyck
17th century
Oil on canvas in gilt wooden frame  

Our object of the month for July hangs over our front reception desk in the North Hall. It is a large portrait of King Charles I with his wife Henrietta Maria. It was painted in the 17th century and is based on a painting by the famous portrait artist Anthony Van Dyck (1599 - 1641). It is a smaller version of the original, which was painted in 1632 and is currently in the Archiepiscopal Castle and Gardens of Kromeriz, Czech Republic. It was commissioned to sit above the chimney in the drawing room at Somerset House, London. There is another painting with the same composition at nearby Knole House. It is likely that the painting here at the Castle was produced in Van Dyck’s workshop which he established in London when he became more successful. The workshop produced a large number of copies of his paintings, as did professional copyists, due to his popularity.

The original portrait by Van Dyck, 1632

Queen Henrietta Maria is depicted offering her husband a garland of laurel which represented victory. She also holds an olive branch in her left hand. The symbols of kingship, the crown, sceptre, and orb can be seen on the table next to Charles I. He is wearing the blue ribbon of the order of the garter, the most senior order of knighthood in the British honours system established in 1348. The painting represents the harmony between the King and the Queen and the union of their two families. The laurel wreath may represent the military success of the Queen’s father Henry IV and the olive branch may symbolise the peace-loving nature of the King’s father James I. It was painted during a period when the relationship between the King and the Queen had grown stronger. In the early years of their marriage, there was conflict between them but by the late 1620s their relationship had improved and Henrietta had their first child.

Ancient tombs as they are seen today in Osaka, including the tomb of Emperor Nintoku (the largest in the image). The Japan Times,

Portrait of Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria, and their children, 1633, Van Dyck

Anthony Van Dyck was a Flemish artist who became successful in the Netherlands and Italy. He painted in the baroque style and his portraits of the King emphasised his belief in his divine right to rule. The portrait of Charles I and Henrietta Maria was very significant for Van Dyck’s career. A Dutch artist called Daniel Mytens, who was the leading court artist before Van Dyck, was originally commissioned to paint it but his work was not considered good enough and was replaced by the one by Van Dyck. Van Dyck was knighted and named principal painter of the King and Mytens left England and returned to Holland. The painting was obviously well received because Van Dyck received twenty pounds to paint another portrait of Henrietta in the same dress in August of 1632.

Portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria, 1632, Van Dyck, Royal Collections Trust, museum number RCIN 404430

This portrait is one of the many Stuart family portraits on display at the Castle which were collected by Denys Eyre Bower (1905 – 1977). Denys was fascinated by the Stuart royal family, their claim to the throne and their supporters, known as the Jacobites. He was a member of the Stuart Society and collected many documents, letters, and objects related to that time period. The portraits at the Castle are all copies, but they are 17th century copies painted by the workshops or students of the famous artists.

This object is just one of the many objects that form part of Denys Eyre Bower’s five impressive collections which include Ancient Egyptian, Japanese, Buddhist, Stuart and Jacobite, and Books. For more information on these objects, review our Object of the Month series, visit the Historic House and Collections or contact our Curator, Naomi Collick by email or by calling 01892 870347.

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