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Unfinished portrait of Charles II

Samuel Cooper (1609 - 1672)
Early 1660s
Watercolour on vellum (prepared animal skin), set in an oval brass frame with glass

The Object of the Month for November is this miniature of Charles II, painted by the famous portrait artist Samuel Cooper. Charles II’s collar, his hair, and the background are unfinished, but Cooper’s skill can be clearly seen in the life-like details of his face. He was known for painting accurate portraits rather than editing out the flaws of his subjects in order to present an ideal image.

Samuel Cooper was considered the greatest miniaturist of his time. Orphaned from a young age, he was raised from around 1610 by his uncle John Hoskins, who was also a miniature painter. He would have received training from his uncle, and he was also taught by the famous portrait artists Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599 - 1641). He established his own studio around 1641 after Van Dyck’s death, and his paintings quickly became very popular and sought-after. A wide range of important customers commissioned portraits from him, including Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 to 1658.

A self-portrait by Samuel Cooper, signed and dated 1645, watercolour on vellum laid on card, Royal Collections Trust, object number RCIN 420067

Almost immediately after Charles II had been restored to the throne in April 1660, he visited Samuel Cooper and sat for him. This was despite the fact that Cooper had previously painted portraits of Cromwell, who was his political rival and enemy due to his involvement in the execution of his father King Charles I. He appears to have overlooked this connection, which shows how much Charles II admired Cooper’s paintings. The writer John Aubrey wrote about Charles II’s eagerness to have his portrait painted by Cooper – ‘he could not but suddenly see Mr Cowper’s curious pieces, of whose fame he had so much heard abroad and seene some of his worke, and likewise that he would sitt to him for his picture.’

The unfinished portrait miniature at Chiddingstone Castle is an example of one of Coopers ad vivum studies, or studies from life. It is unfinished because it would have been painted quickly to capture Charles II’s likeness whilst he sat. Cooper would have then taken this painting back to his workshop to use as a reference for the portrait miniatures that he made for sale. The painting below is of a finished portrait of Charles II which has been attributed to Cooper –

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

Charles II, attributed to Samuel Cooper, watercolour on vellum laid on card, Royal Collection Trust, object number RCIN 420104

The detail of the Chiddingstone Castle unfinished portrait miniature makes it clear that it was painted from life. Due to its estimated date, it is likely that it was one of the first studies Cooper took of Charles II after his restoration to the throne. This piece may have been an important inspiration for many other portraits of Charles II by Cooper.

This miniature is one of the most important objects in the Stuart and Jacobite collection of Denys Eyre Bower. Charles II was one of the last Stuart kings and is therefore a key figure in Jacobite imagery. The Jacobites were the supporters of his brother and successor, James II, who was the last Stuart king. The Jacobites believed that the Stuart family were the rightful rulers of England, Ireland, and Scotland. They were named after the Latin for James, ‘Jacobus’. Denys was fascinated by the Jacobite cause and the Stuart royal family, and collected many related documents, letters, portraits, and artefacts. The painting below is a full-sized portrait of Charles II on display here at the Castle. Other fascinating Stuart and Jacobite objects can be viewed in the Castle’s Print Room including relics of Stuart Kings and objects decorated with secret Jacobite symbols.

Portrait of Charles II, painted in the style of May Beale (1632 – 1697), oil on canvas, Chiddingstone Castle collection, object number 01.3048

For more information on the Chiddingstone Castle miniature and other works by Samuel Cooper, please see the exhibition catalogue Warts and All, The Portrait Miniatures of Samuel Cooper, 2013, Philip Mould & Company.

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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