King Charles I
King Charles I
by Unknown artist
oil on copper with 17 mica overlays, second half of 17th century
3 1/8 in. x 2 1/2 in. (79 mm x 64 mm) oval
This portraitback to top
When this unusual portrait was offered by an art dealer in 1996, the Gallery already owned ten painted portraits of King Charles I (1600-49), and over 200 printed images. The portrait was nevertheless considered a valuable addition to the Collection as it gives a fascinating insight into seventeenth-century history and visual culture.
The oil on copper miniature of the king is accompanied by a set of 17 overlays made from a transparent glass-like material called mica. These can be laid over the miniature in order to dress him in different costumes and introduce other figures. Together they tell the story of his imprisonment, trial and execution on 30 January 1649. The final scene shows an angel trumpeting his arrival in heaven. It was one of the many objects made in the aftermath of his execution that honoured him as a holy martyr. They are very fragile and have deteriorated over time.
Nothing certain is known about the portrait’s origin and provenance but it can be dated to the second half of the seventeenth century. It is possible that the portrait was produced in Holland and collected by exiled Royalists or smuggled into England during the period of the Commonwealth and Protectorate (1649-60). Despite attempts to suppress royalist sympathy, items such as this fuelled a growing cult of Charles I as King and Martyr. The popularity of devotional miniatures such as this can be gauged by the number of similar examples that survive in public and private collections today. The Gallery collecting policy usually favours portraits made during the sitter’s lifetime but an exception was made for this fascinating posthumous portrait.
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. 76
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 116
Mediaback to top
Events of 1651back to top
Current affairsCharles II, crowned King of Scotland, daringly invades England. His defeat at the Battle of Worcester by Oliver Cromwell permanently ends further military action against Parliament. Charles's escape from Worcester becomes legendary, as a fugitive, he seeks refuge for six weeks before finally fleeing to Normandy.
Art and scienceSocial philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, publishes his major work, Leviathan. Recognised as a cornerstone of western political philosophy, Hobbes's implication that the new political authority should be accepted, angering many exiled royalists.
InternationalHeaded by Chief Justice, Oliver St. John, a delegation is sent by the Rump Parliament to The Hague to negotiate a union between England and the Dutch Republic. The mission fails, principally over refusal by the Dutch to expel the exiled Stuart royal family from the country.
Visit From Your Armchair
Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize
An online exhibition celebrating the very best in contemporary portrait photography.
Explore our community photography project, which presents a personal record of the UK during lockdown.
Sculptures in 360°
See sculptures and fascinating objects from our Collection from all angles.
David Hockney: Drawing from Life
Watch highlights from our special exhibition, which had to close early in March 2020 due to lockdown.
- Tudor Miniatures
- Charles I
- Silhouettes display, 2004-05
- Return to Life: A New Look at the Portrait Bust
- 2019 Anniversaries
- William Hazlitt's Spirit of the Age
- Making History: Printed Portraiture in Tudor and Stuart Britain
- Mary, Queen of Scots: Fact and Fiction
- Restoration Lives: Samuel Pepys and His Circle
- Brilliant Women
- Chartist Portraits
- Mary, Queen of Scots
- Nelson: before and after Trafalgar
- Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Art Conservation Project
- Rebel women
- Theodore de Mayerne
- Tudor and Elizabethan matching pairs
- Popular Prints of Victoria and Albert
- Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
- Searching for Shakespeare
Tell us more
Framed & unframed prints
Choose your favourite portrait from our Collection as a framed or unframed print for your home.