… lost portrait of a king …
One of the most alluring images in the Charles I, King & Collector exhibition is the informal portrait of Philip IV by Velasquez. Charles never owned the picture – so why did the curators include it?
In 1623, when Prince Charles was 22, he was betrothed to the King of Spain’s sister. Negotiations over this alliance had begun to drag so Charles seized the initiative and travelled to Spain to win the Infanta over. The whole mission was a bit of an embarrassing disaster because diplomacy is never that simple but his informal embassy was the springboard for Charles’ passion for art collecting.
It was a court of young men. In 1623 King Philip IV was 18 and had already been king for two years. He entertains the older Charles for months in Madrid and even gives him a Titian to take home (Charles V with a Dog, 1533). In this same year, Velazquez who was only 24, is ordered to the city to try out as the new Court Painter. It is probable that he painted this quick and informal portrait of Philip to secure his position – and a close, successful relationship began between monarch and painter which lasted until Velazquez‘s death.
Intriguingly Velazquez also painted a portrait of Charles during this year. The closest image we have to what it may have looked like is this portrait from the studio of the Dutch painter, Daniel Mytens. A fine work – but no Velazquez.
Daniel Mytens was the principle painter at the Stuart court from the early 1620s to the mid 1630s. This portrait is a contemporary replica, probably painted in Mytens’ studio, as it was one of his most important early commissions. It shows Charles I before he became King in 1625.*
How exciting would it be if the original Velazquez was discovered! A young man – on the brink of kingship – by one of the finest painters of the 17th century. In the 19th century, one man became obsessed with the idea that he had found it. His fascinating story is told by Laura Cumming in The Vanishing Man: In pursuit of Velazquez. It wasn’t. Here’s a link to her article about it.
Charles I, King and Collector at The Royal Academy, London runs until 15 April 2018. With all exhibitions of this size and popularity, it is worth getting the catalogue first to scope out what you want to see before plunging in. It’s a wonderful book with over 200 colour illustrations, essays to put the exhibition in context, and detailed notes on provenance. Softback £28. Hardback £40. A link to the Royal Academy bookshop is here.
Philip IV c.1623-24 (Meadows Museum, Dallas) Diego Velazquez (1599-1660)
Charles I (when Prince of Wales) 1620s (Unknown) Contemporary copy after Daniel Mytens (c.1590–1647/48)
* Details from Philip Mould Fine Paintings.