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King Charles I

3 of 335 portraits of King Charles I

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King Charles I

by Gerrit van Honthorst
oil on canvas, 1628
30 in. x 25 1/4 in. (762 mm x 641 mm)
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, 1965
Primary Collection
NPG 4444

Sitterback to top

  • King Charles I (1600-1649), Reigned 1625-49. Sitter associated with 335 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656), Artist. Artist or producer associated with 51 portraits, Sitter in 5 portraits.

This portraitback to top

An unusually informal and intimate portrait, this painting is probably the life study on which Honthorst based another image of Charles I in a large allegorical group portrait at Hampton Court. This shows the King and Queen as Apollo and Diana, with the Duke of Buckingham as Mercury, presenting to them the Seven Liberal Arts.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 6, 126 Read entry

    The younger son of James I and Anne of Denmark, Charles became heir to the throne on the death of his brother Henry in 1612. He suffered from a speech impediment and physical disabilities as a child, and from comparisons with his much-admired elder brother as a young man, but his personal life flourished, with a successful marriage to Henrietta Maria of France and six children who survived beyond early childhood. His dismissal of Parliament and his imposition of unpopular taxes, however, along with his attempts to impose religious uniformity, contributed to increasing civil and political unrest and eventually to civil war, culminating in his execution outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall on 30 January 1649.

    This unusually informal and intimate portrait is probably a study, made from life, for an allegorical group portrait now at Hampton Court. Charles, a passionate collector and patron of art, had invited the Dutch artist Gerrit van Honthorst to come to England in 1628. He commissioned a huge painting that shows himself and his queen as Apollo and Diana, along with his favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, as Mercury, presenting the Seven Liberal Arts. The portrait captures something of the king's serious-minded, scholarly character.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 33
  • Edited by Rab MacGibbon and Tanya Bentley, Icons and Identities, 2021, p. 48
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 33 Read entry

    Thought to be a study for the great Hampton Court allegorical painting in which Charles as Apollo, accompanied by Henrietta Maria as Diana, receives the Duke of Buckingham as Mercury, who introduces the Liberal Arts. Charles took a lively interest in the meaning of masques, finding solace in the symbolic destruction of allegorical characters such as ‘jealousy’ and ‘Discord’ as real political difficulties intruded into his life in the late 1630s.

  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 66
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 84
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 54
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 54 Read entry

    Charles I is generally remembered from images of him on horseback, looking imperious but with an air of melancholy about him. By contrast, this image by Gerrit van Honthorst shows him just before he had embarked on his personal rule and suggests his character as a scholar and an aesthete. It is assumed to have been painted between April and December 1628, when Honthorst was in London at the King's invitation; and to have been a preliminary study for a much larger, semi-mythological painting of The Seven Liberal Arts Presented to Apollo and Diana (now at Hampton Court), in which Charles I is seated on a cloud as Apollo, flanked by Henrietta Maria, his queen, as Diana.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 115
  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 111

Events of 1628back to top

Current affairs

John Felton, a professional soldier, assassinates George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.
Lawyer and politician, Sir Edward Coke, leads the demand for a Petition of Right which sets out specific civil liberties while curbing Royal power. After much debate, it is reluctantly accepted by Charles I and passed in Parliament.

Art and science

Aged ten, poet Abraham Cowley writes his epic romance, Pyramus and Thisbe; it would appear in his first publication, Poetical blossoms, 1633, a collection of five poems.
Charles I purchases a substantial art collection from the Duke of Mantua, initially overseen by diplomat, Sir Isaac Wake.


The Huguenots surrender in La Rochelle to Catholic royalist forces. Attempts are made by England to assist the city; a final, unsuccessful expedition is dispatched by Robert Bertie, Earl of Lindsey, now head of the fleet since the death of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

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