King Charles II

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King Charles II

by Unknown artist
oil on canvas, 1630
47 1/2 in. x 36 3/4 in. (1207 mm x 933 mm)
Purchased with help from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, 1997
Primary Collection
NPG 6403

On display in Room 4 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • King Charles II (1630-1685), Reigned 1660-85. Sitter associated with 295 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Unknown artist, Artist. Artist or producer associated with 6577 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This is the earliest known portrait of the future king. It was painted, according to the French inscription, when he was four months and fifteen days old. At this age he was described by his mother, Henrietta Maria, as 'so fat and so tall that he is taken for a year old'. The painting was probably sent to the prince's godmother and grandmother, Marie de' Medici, Queen Mother of France. The dog, held by the ear, is a toy spaniel, a breed which later came to be associated with Charles as King.

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 27
  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 49 Read entry

    This larger-than-life portrait of the infant heir of Charles I is probably a painting commissioned by his mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, to send to her family in France. She wrote to a friend, Mme de Saint-Georges: ‘I will send you his portrait as soon as he is a little fairer; for at present he is so dark that I am ashamed of him. ... He is so fat and so big that he is taken for a year old, and he is only four months.’ A later letter implies that she had sent such a portrait to her mother, Marie de’ Medici, and the inscription at the top of the picture is indeed in French and confirms that the Prince is four months old. His being dark is less apparent, though it is well documented, and his looks were almost certainly inherited from his Italian grandmother.

    Despite the lack of any royal regalia, the portrait is self-evidently a piece of political propaganda, though the central role of the little puppy in the portrait is most unusual. Almost certainly painted life-size and occupying the focal point of the composition on the propped-up baby’s lap, its symbolic function as the traditional emblem of loyalty to the lord and master is here overlaid with resonances of the subject’s loyalty to and patronage from the heir to the throne. The dog’s presence in the royal nursery as a magnet for the fevers and parasites that might otherwise afflict the child is, as has already been noted, not remotely unusual, and the dog would doubtless also serve where necessary as a hot-water bottle.

    The liveliness and realism with which the dog is painted not only suggests that it may have been executed by a different artist from the rest of the painting, still in the ‘Jacobean’ tradition, but also allows us to identify it beyond doubt as one of the toy spaniels that seem to have been as much a feature of Charles I’s court as they would later be of his son’s. This still seems an amazingly prophetic touch, whether on the part of the Queen or of the artist, for these are the dogs for which the future Charles II became renowned, if not notorious, and which would later bear his name. Seen here as a baby playing with the dog’s ear, in years to come the King would be the subject of grumbles from his ministers that, during government business, he whiled away the time by trifling with his spaniels.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 116
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 79 Read entry

    The baby is identified as Prince Charles, the future King Charles II, by a contemporary inscription in French at the top of the painting, which gives his age as four months and fifteen days. His mother, Queen Henrietta Maria, described him at this time as ‘so fat and tall that he is taken for a year old’. The portrait may have been painted for the baby’s grandmother, Marie de’ Medici, the French queen mother. The cool, silvery colour scheme, with touches of scarlet, recalls contemporary descriptions of Charles’s christening, at which all the guests were dressed in white satin with scarlet embroidery. The sumptuous cushion on which the baby is propped, the curtains to either side and the strong lighting in the painting are all probably intended to contribute a regal quality appropriate to a depiction of the heir to the throne. Charles holds a heavily jewelled rattle fitted with coral to ward off illness and for teething. An element of informality, and even humour, is contributed by the dog on his lap. The tiny spaniel – a breed that came to be associated with Charles as king – is held by the ear.

Events of 1630back to top

Current affairs

Charles I's first surviving child, Charles, is born in St. James's Palace. He is baptised by the Anglican Bishop of London, William Laud, and brought up in the care of the Protestant Mary Curzon, Countess of Dorset.

Art and science

The Cottonian Library, containing the greatest resource of Old English and Middle English literature, founded by antiquary and anti-royalist, Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, is confiscated by the authorities.

International

Philip IV of Spain and Charles I sign the Treaty of Madrid, ending hostilities between the two countries. Spanish diplomat, Cesare Alessandro Scaglia, assists with the conclusion of the peace deal.
German, Protestant land is regained from Catholic allies on account of Swedish intervention in the Thirty Years' War.

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