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Five Children of King Charles I

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Five Children of King Charles I

after Sir Anthony van Dyck
oil on canvas, 17th century, based on a work of 1637
35 1/4 in. x 69 3/8 in. (895 mm x 1762 mm)
Purchased, 1868
Primary Collection
NPG 267

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

  • Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), Painter. Artist associated with 1023 portraits, Sitter associated with 30 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The five children of Charles I are shown left to right: Princess Mary, (later Princess of Orange and mother of William III); James, Duke of York, (later James II); Prince Charles, (later Charles II); Princess Elizabeth and, in her sister's lap, Princess Anne. The future Charles II rests his hand on the head of an enormous mastiff. The mastiff had been a guard dog since Roman times and appears here as a protector for the royal children at a time of civil unrest. Nonetheless, the position of the young Prince's hand suggests that he is capable of ruling this powerful beast and, by implication, his country. The original of this group portrait was painted for Charles I in 1637, and is still in the Royal Collection. It shows the children at full length with two dogs, the mastiff depicted here and a small 'King Charles' spaniel at the right. Along with van Dyck's earlier picture of the three eldest children, it was an immensely popular composition, and was copied many times. Van Dyck's relatively informal group of royal children contrasts markedly with the stiff, formal portraits of a generation earlier.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG D11400: The Five Eldest Children of King Charles I (based on same portrait)
  • NPG D32119: Five Children of King Charles I (based on same portrait)
  • NPG D26448: Progeny of Charles I (based on same portrait)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • The changing face of childhood : British children's portraits and their influence in Europe, 2007 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 1st August-4th November 2007), p. 17
  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 28
  • Ingamells, John, Later Stuart Portraits 1685-1714, 2009, p. 119
  • Piper, David, Catalogue of Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, 1625-1714, 1963, p. 6,120
  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 52 Read entry

    Van Dyck’s sophisticated paintings of the court of Charles I must have come as a considerable culture shock to the majority of Britons who had never travelled in Europe. Painted only seven years after the stiff and hieratic portrait of Charles II as a baby, the young prince now dominates the centre of this elegant group of royal children, once more with a dog as accessory, though this time a rather spectacular mastiff. What cannot be seen in this reduced copy of the original full-length painting in the Royal Collection is yet another toy spaniel bouncing into the picture, as they do in almost all of Van Dyck’s groups of the Royal Family.

    The mastiff, while providing the usual symbol of loyalty and fidelity, nevertheless by its overwhelming presence and size seems also to suggest a symbol of power and perhaps of protection for its younger charges. The mastiff not only had been a guard dog since Roman times but was also the most common dog for the then hugely popular sports of bear- and bull-bating, which had made even as well known a philanthropist as Edward Alleyn, founder of Dulwich College, immensely rich. He was empowered as Master of the Royal Game of Bears, Bulls and Mastiff Dogs to requisition any mastiffs he chose; as a result, by the end of James I’s reign they had become something of an endangered breed. The mastiff’s presence here, as well as reflecting Charles I’s passion for baiting, may also by now have been something of a status symbol.

    Charles II by contrast showed little interest in this cruel sport and will always be remembered for the spaniels that bear his name. In 1662, the Serjeant of Hawks was paid 20 pence a day for walking the king’s spaniels and £7 for a suitable livery. The story is told, much like those in currency about today’s royal corgis, of a loyal gentleman who was bitten by one of the spaniels and exclaimed, ‘God bless your Majesty! But God damn your dogs!’ In 1865, Bishop Burnet was shocked by the fact that even as the King lay dying, the royal bed was, as usual, alive with yapping and whimpering spaniels.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 704
  • Simon, Robin, The portrait in Britain and America : with a biographical dictionary of portrait painters, 1680-1914, 1987, p. [115] plate 19
  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 112
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 114

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1637back to top

Current affairs

Politician, John Hampden, fights a high profile case refusing to pay ship money imposed by Charles I, whose case is argued by Judge, Sir John Bankes. Hampden narrowly looses the case.
Charles I, eager to extend Anglicism to Scotland through the imposition of a new Prayer Book, meets with resistance.

Art and science

Sovereign of the Seas is launched, the largest, most lavishly decorated naval warship. Built by shipbuilder Peter Pett, construction is supervised by his father Phineas Pett.
John Milton's greatest memorial elegy, Lycidas, is dedicated to fellow poet Edward King.
Dramatist, Thomas Killigrew, writes his most popular play, The Parson's Wedding.


Charles I issues a proclamation that those emigrating to America must obtain a licence from the Commissioners for Plantations and a certificate proving allegiance to the king and conformity to the Church of England.
First recorded economic bubble. Contract prices for tulips in the Netherlands collapses having become very high.

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John Boning

28 October 2015, 02:57

This picture appears to be a copy of the Van Dyck Original formerly owned by the Duke of Leeds, The Leeds' picture was returned to the Royal Collection in mid August 1661 to Col. Hawley " A PIECE OF THE KING WHEN HE WAS YOUNG LAYING HIS HAND UPON A GREAT DOG WITH PRINCESSES BY TITIAN / MARY, THE DUKE OF YORK, PRINCESSES ELIZ AND LADY ANN". The picture, with no inscription, was attributed to Titian. However having been deceased 50+ years prior to 1637, Titian was recorded in error. The Leeds' picture also appears to have been copied by A. Browne in 1683/4. See the Royal License granted to Browne NPG history of mezzotint (which also contains a recording error [Q for Queen's over written with K for Kings]) - Kings family at length and N. Dixon (the King's Limner) in miniature. Many of the other copies after Van Dyck and the prepatory picture of the dogs also appear to be consistent with the Leeds Version as well as the Berlin, Kilkenny, Burghley, Grafton as well as the National Trust (inventory #'s 996328, 290209, 932321) and Royal Collection #403233. When comparing pictures (for quick comparisons) please make note of the angles of the mastiff's white muzzle, the white pleat in James II's right sleeve and there darker threatening clouds.

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