King Charles I

1 portrait matching these criteria:

- npg number matching '1112'

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King Charles I

by Unknown artist
oil on canvas, circa 1616
79 in. x 45 1/2 in. (2007 mm x 1156 mm)
NPG 1112


The previous attribution to Abraham van Blyenberch cannot be sustained after comparative analysis of works by the artist.

The portrait was sold from the Marlborough Collection at Blenheim Palace in 1866 (lot 261). It was purchased by the Gallery from Colnaghi in December 1897.

Historical context
As with a number of other portraits of Charles without a beard, this painting was previously thought to depict his brother Henry; it was re-identified in 1934. Charles was a keen patron and collector and, with his brother Henry and mother, Anne of Denmark, initiated a revival of the arts in England by inviting Netherlandish artists to the country and providing them with patronage.

Notes on attribution
Close comparison to Abraham van Blyenberch’s portraits of Ben Johnson (NPG 2752) and William Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke at Powis Castle, has shown that the previous attribution of this portrait to Blyenberch cannot be sustained.

Justification for dating
Comparison with other portraits of the sitter, such as NPG 3064 and NPG 4444, suggests that this portrait was likely painted in around 1616, when Charles was sixteen years old. This was the same year in which he was created Prince of Wales. The materials and techniques in use are entirely consistent with a work of this period.

The canvas support is made from two pieces of canvas joined horizontally; the lower piece is a little smaller than the upper piece. The flesh paint is abraded in some areas, and some of the restoration has discoloured. The inaccurate inscription ‘Prince Henry Son of King James the...’ in the lower-left corner was removed during treatment in 1974, but traces are still visible using infrared reflectography, as is the painted out inscription beneath this, which reads: magnae Britan... Princeps.

Painting technique
The canvas was prepared with two oil layers: a warm toned greyish layer with a pinkish orange layer applied over it. Both layers contain vermilion and red ochre and a certain amount of chalk; the lower layer also contains black and white. The second layer was used as the mid-tone in several areas, for example around the eyes, and can also be seen in the reserve for the ruff, around the edge of the drapery in the sky and at the edge of the costume. The painting has a very warm tone, which is partly due to the colour of the priming but also to the amount of red pigment, especially red ochre, used in the paint mixtures. The painting technique is straightforward with some passages, such as the clouds, painted wet-in-wet.

Drawing and transfer technique
Infrared reflectography revealed extensive underdrawing carried out with black paint. The figure and drapery are clearly defined but there does not appear to be any drawing in the face. Major changes were made to the position of the limbs during drawing: the leg on the left was moved to the right, and the leg on the right was moved significantly to the left. The forearm and hand on the left were first drawn over the hose but were moved in order to rest the hand on the edge of the tablecloth. The right hand was drawn again in a lower position.

Other known versions
There is only one other known version of this portrait:
- Attributed to Daniel Mytens, Sotheby’s, Important Old Master Paintings, 11 January 1995, lot 204

MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection at Montacute House, London, 1999, p. 31
Millar, Oliver and Margaret Whinney, The Oxford History of English Art: 1625-1714, 1957, p. 75
Piper, David, Catalogue of the Seventeenth century portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, 1963, pp. 58-65
Plender, Sophie, ‘Materials and Practice: The relationship between artists’ treatises and painting techniques in Tudor and Jacobean England’, in T. Cooper, A. Burnstock, M. Howard and E. Town, eds, Painting in Britain 1500-1630: Production, Influences and Patronage, Oxford, 2015, p. 119
Scharf, Sir George, Catalogue Raisonné ...Blenheim Palace, 1861, p. 16


Micro 01. Detail of the eye on the right (7.1…
Micro 02. Detail of the eye on the left (7.1…
Micro 03. Detail of ruff (7.1 x mag).
Micro 04. Detail of the edge of the green cur…
Micro 05. Detail of the lips, with restoratio…
Micro 06. Detail of pigment mixture in the co…
Micro 07. Detail of cheek, with restoration (…
Micro 08. Detail of green curtain (40 x mag).
Micro 09. Detail of Garter medal ribbon (7.1…
Micro 10. Detail of Garter medal ribbon (40 x…
Micro 11. Detail of Garter medal (7.1 x mag).
Micro 13. Detail of the sky (7.1 x mag).
Micro 15. Detail of pigment mixture in the ho…
Micro 17. Detail of garter (7.1 x mag).
Micro 18. Detail of tablecloth (7.1 x mag).
Micro 20. Detail of embroidery on hose (7.1 x…
Micro 22. Detail of inscription beneath the f…
Micro 23. Detail of inscription beneath the f…
UV 01. Front of the panel in ultra violet lig…

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Compare high-resolution images against the painting - mainly x-ray and infra-red photography images, but sometimes UV or raking light images - side by side with the ability to zoom in on details.

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The canvas has an old glue-paste lining and the original tacking edges have been removed. The painting has been strip-lined with canvas using PVA adhesive. The four-window wooden stretcher is not original and probably dates from the time of the lining. It is in good condition and all wedges are present and secured. There is a slight lump in the surface towards the bottom right. The horizontal seam in the original canvas is slightly raised but sound. The paint and ground layers have been generally flattened during the lining process, and there is wrinkling in the surface and squashed impasto, which was most probably caused at the same time. There are two horizontal parallel lines, 9 cm apart, impressed into the paint surface across the marble column and across the curtain to the left of the figure. There is some raised cupped paint, especially between the legs and around the feet but this is secure. The flesh paint has suffered abrasion and there is extensive restoration in the face; this has lightened and is a little disturbing visually. There is a dark band of restoration along the bottom edge. There is a fairly even layer of matt varnish; this has slightly discoloured but generally the appearance is reasonable.


Panel condition observations

The canvas and the lining are in sound condition. The lining is stiff and it is evident that there is high glue content in the adhesive. Thick residues of glue can be seen on the picture plane on the lining canvas at the side edges of the original canvas. The non-original four-window stretcher is in good condition.

Dendrochronology (what's this? )


An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.

Last date of tree ring: n/a


The painting is on a canvas support.

X-radiography (what's this? )


A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.

The medium weight, slightly open weave of the canvas can be seen clearly in x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01). Uneven threads can be seen in the weave and the stitching that joins the two parts of the canvas is clearly visible across the centre. There are a few tears and paint losses. Lead bearing paint, such as the features and detail in the costume, can also be seen.

Infrared reflectography (what's this? )

Infra-Red Reflectographyclose

A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.

Infrared reflectography shows underdrawing carried out with black paint (see DIRR 01). The figure and the drapery are clearly defined but there do not appear to be any drawing lines in the face. Major changes were made at the drawing stage to the positions of the legs, arms and hands. There are changes in the position and angle of the legs. The leg on the left was moved to the right in the drawing stage. The leg on the right was moved significantly to the left; there are three outlines for this leg visible in infrared reflectography. The forearm and hand on the left were first drawn over the hose but were moved in order to rest the hand on the edge of the tablecloth. The right arm was drawn again in a lower position. The outlines and folds in the hose are clearly drawn with black paint. The outline of the green background curtain and some lines in the drapery on the upper right can also be seen. The painted out inscription at the lower left foreground: magnae Britan..? Princeps can be seen with infrared reflectography. Traces of the inscription above this, which was removed during the restoration in 1974, can also be seen, Prince Henry Son of King James the ....

Paint sampling (what's this? )

Paint Samplingclose

Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.

Paint samples were taken for analysis in March 2012.

The canvas was prepared with a warm grey chalk and lead white ground with charcoal black, a little vermilion, red ochre and brown earth. Over this there is a layer containing chalk, vermilion and red ochre. Cross-sections of samples 1 and 5 show these layers clearly.

Green curtain
Sample 1: Cross-section from upper right edge shows the warm grey ground and the pinkish-orange priming. Above the priming, there is an opaque cool grey layer containing carbon black, lead white with a little red ochre, which creates an optical blue-grey. The upper layer is a translucent copper green glaze. Dispersion shows the copper green particles amongst a discoloured brownish glaze.

Sample 5: Cross-section from the lower part of the sky near the buildings shows the pinkish-orange priming, a pale grey-blue layer with smalt and lead white, with a thicker layer of smalt, azurite and lead white above. In dispersion both azurite and smalt were identified. It is possible that the azurite was a thin skim over the top of the smalt but it could not be seen in cross-section and it is therefore difficult to identify its place in the stratigraphy of the paint.

Sample 4: Dispersion shows that the green paint consists of azurite mixed with a little lead white, yellow ochre and the occasional particle of red ochre.

Sample 2: Dispersion of a scraping of green particles from the flesh identified green earth. There are also particles of lead white and red in the mixture.
Sample 3: Dispersion of a scraping of yellow particles from the flesh identified rod-shaped yellow ochre with the same appearance as that seen in the portrait of Ben Jonson (NPG 2752). Lead white and red from the flesh paint mixture are also present.

Garter medal ribbon
Sample 6: Dispersion shows that the blue/green paint consists predominantly of azurite.

Red costume
Sample 6: Dispersion shows that the red paint contains a mixture of crimson red lake and fine red ochre. It is possible that there is some vermilion present but the sample did not contain any.

Surface examination (what's this? )

Surface Examinationclose

An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.

Painting style and method
The painting technique is straightforward, with some passages such as the clouds blended wet-in-wet.

Preparation layers
There is a warm-toned grey ground containing chalk, lead white, charcoal black, vermilion, red ochre and brown earth. Over this, there is a pinkish orange layer containing chalk, vermilion and red ochre. The warm pale priming is visible in the reserve for the ruff and around the edge of the green drapery and sky. Underdrawing was carried out with black paint.

The first layer for the face appears to have been blocked in at an early stage in the painting process. The priming was used as the mid-tone; for example, around the eyes. The flesh paint was applied thinly over the underlayer. The cool flesh tones are painted with a mixture of lead white, black, vermilion and large particles of green earth (see micro 06). The warm flesh tones contain a greater proportion of vermilion (see micro 07). There is a considerable amount of restoration in the flesh, which has lightened and is now mismatched. The lips are painted above the flesh paint. The paint mixture appears to contain red ochre with red lake glaze, with black and some opaque red used for the parting of the lips (see micro 05). The paint mixture in the palest passages in the hands contains quite a lot of green.

The eyes were painted using the priming layer as the mid-tone. The dark grey irises are painted with black, lead white and red (see micro 01 and micro 02). The whitest part of the eyes is similar to the lightest part of the flesh paint with green added.

The hair was thinly painted above the flesh paint, with softly blended passages of shadow and highlight using a paint mixture containing yellow ochre, black, lead white and green. There is a greater proportion of lead white and yellow ochre in the highlights.

Doublet and hose
The priming can be seen at the edge of the costume, against the sky, where the sky paint was not painted up to the edge of the cloak. The sleeve and the cloak are painted with a mixture of red ochre, red lake and black. Remnants of a thin red lake glaze remain above this opaque layer. In some parts this glaze remains intact but in other parts it is heavily abraded. The fur edging of the cloak was created by using an opaque red mixture, with lead white and red lake applied in small, soft hatched brushstrokes, wet-in-wet, to the opaque red beneath. The embroidered detail on the doublet and upper hose was applied above the opaque red, with black and lead white, ochre mixed with black and red lake, and lead-tin yellow (see micro 20). These details appear to have been applied when the underlying red layer had fully dried. The folds in the hose and the shadow in the doublet were created with red lake mixed with black applied above the opaque layer.

The reserve left for the ruff is clearly visible with surface examination (see micro 03). The priming layer acts as the mid-tone. The grey underlayer for the green curtain and the opaque red layer for the doublet were brushed up to the edge of the reserve (see micro 04). A very thin brown/grey layer was applied over the reserve, and the lace detail was applied over it, with fine soft brushstrokes. The lace is painted with lead white, some black and a small amount of green.

Order of the Garter
The Garter ribbon was painted with a mixture of azurite with lead white and a little red, and was applied directly over the red costume (see micro 09 and micro 10). The gold parts of the Garter medal were painted with lead-tin yellow and yellow ochre with black and some red, with white highlights applied above (see micro 11).

Lower hose and garter
The garter was painted above the red ochre of the lower hose with azurite. The lettering is painted with lead-tin yellow and yellow ochre (see micro 17). Red lake was used in the shadows.

Background curtain
The green curtain has a dark grey opaque underlayer with a mixture of black, white and a very small amount of red. Above this, a layer of copper green glaze was applied with the highlights for the folds above. Highlights were painted with lead-tin yellow and copper green glaze (see micro 08).

Sky and landscape
The sky was painted before the figure and the background drapery. The clouds were painted wet-in-wet into the sky beneath. The paint in the upper sky is a mixture of smalt and lead white. The original blue has discoloured, although blue particles are clearly visible with microscopy. Some red lake with added black can also be seen. Quite a lot of old varnish residues remain on the paint surface. The sky has been heavily restored with a pale cool blue (see micro 13). The highlights in the clouds are painted with lead white, with vermilion and some yellow ochre. The paint for the greenish lower part of the sky contains azurite with red, black and white (see micro 15).

The buildings are thinly painted over the sky and they are now quite abraded. The red ochre colour used for the buildings was thinly painted down across the landscape and the floor. The trees and figure were then painted over this layer. The green in the foliage is a mixture of azurite, green earth (as in the flesh), black, lead white, yellow ochre, red lead and possibly some red lake. The same mixture was used for the palest green but with a greater proportion of yellow ochre.

The red ochre for the buildings appears to have been thinly applied beneath the grey foreground. The grey paint is a mixture of charcoal black, lead white, yellow ochre and a little red. The grey was applied very thinly in many areas, and the warm underlayer can be seen beneath.

There appears to be a thin red ochre layer beneath the upper layer, which is painted with copper green glaze. In some areas lead white was added, but it seems very abraded and possibly even scraped. There are white areas where the glaze appears to have degraded and fractured, creating a white appearance. The gold embroidered border of the table cloth, with red (see micro 18) and white roses, is painted with yellow ochre with lead-tin yellow highlights.

In the lower left foreground, an inscription has been painted out (see micro 22 and micro 23). This can be seen more clearly with infrared reflectography (see Infrared reflectography) : magnae Britan..? Princeps

Another inscription was removed during restoration in 1974: Prince Henry Son of King James the ...

Order of construction
- Warm grey ground
- Pinkish-orange priming
- Underdrawing in black paint
- Underlayers applied for the face, the costume and the green curtain
- Sky painted before figure and background drapery
- Figure painted
- Drapery and tablecloth
- Buildings are painted over the sky paint
- Foreground

Azurite, smalt, black, lead white, lead-tin yellow, earth colours, green earth, yellow ochre, red ochre, red lake,

Changes in composition/pentimenti
The free, fluid underdrawing shows how the composition developed. The leg on the left was moved further right, and the leg on the right was moved significantly to the left. The forearm and hand on the left were initially drawn over the hose, but were moved to rest the hand on the edge of the tablecloth. The hand on the right was also repositioned.

Restoration observations
An early inscription in the lower-left corner has been painted over. A later inscription, identifying the sitter as Henry, Prince of Wales, was removed during treatment in 1974.

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.

Examination with ultra violet light shows fairly extensive light areas of fluorescence where areas of old varnishes remain after varnish removal (see UV 01). It is evident that the varnish was removed in rectangular sections. Areas of most recent restoration appear dark and are especially noticeable where there is extensive restoration in the face and hands.


Frame type: Not original.

Frame date: Late 19th / early 20th century.


Black stained and polished frame with twin bands of gilding.