Off With His Head Already!

Here’s an interesting fact you can use in clever table conversation: The vandyke beard got its name from the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, who painted portraits in England when this particular combo of facial hair was all the rage. The most famous of his models was no doubt the soon-to-be-headless King Charles I. And here’s another interesting tidbit: the most famous of his portraits, the triple portrait, was actually made for a sculptor who made a bust following the painting. So, it’s pretty much a sketch for something else, not an actual portrait.

Source: Wikipedia

He looks like a small, unassuming man, but he was an incredibly vain even for a monarch. He had a huge collection of art and even called van Dyck over as “principalle Paynter in ordinary to their majesties,” but it doesn’t seem like he ever got around displaying his staggering collection to his subjects. If he wanted to buttress his throne with art, it was silly of him to hog all these pictures and keep them locked up. Not the sharpest of pencils, this one.

Source: Wikipedia

Van Dyck was a great find for Charles and the portraits he painted would have a hold on English portrait painting for at least the next century and half. The one above is in the Louvre and one can see how the understated colors are in perfect harmony with the deep shadows. There is something very earthy about the image and yet it retains a mysterious dim glow as the King is bathed in golden sunlight.

Source: Wikipedia

This one’s in the National Gallery and when I passed it, obviously awed by the portrait, I wrote in my little notebook: “Served him right!” I was impressed by the size (367 x 292.1 cm) as well as the technical perfection of the piece. It is the most conventional of royal portraits, the King on horseback, but it is executed with such force and grace that it had even a kid brought up in a socialist country momentarily seduced by monarchy. However, a nodding museum employee quickly made me realize that the King didn’t do anything but sit on his sorry ass for his portrait. This sudden back-and-forth made me realize that it is as easy to worship Kings as it is to call for their heads.

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