Friday, 15 April 2011

Bite 93: Anthony Van Dyck - Charles II as Prince of Wales, in Armour, c. 1637

Charles II as Prince of Wales, in Armour, c. 1637,
oil on canvas, 154 x 131 cm, Royal Collection, Windsor Castle
 Wearing a gleaming suit of armour much like that worn by his father in Charles I in Armour (c. 1639), the young boy is attired like a military commander, holding a newly fashionable wheel-lock pistol. It was likely painted before his installation as a Knight of the Garter on May 21st 1638 as he is not shown wearing the Lesser George as his father is. Similar in pose to that in The Five Eldest Children of Charles I (1637), likely from the same sitting, his left hand sits on a helmet sporting flamboyant plumes.

The painting conveys - albeit eloquently - the absurdity of a 7 year old being portrayed as ready to lead a military simply because of his royal lineage. This, as with images of Charles II’s father, were part of an elaborate propagandist campaign to justify the legitimacy of the Stuart line.

Van Dyck’s portraiture played a significant role in this campaign and portraying Prince Charles II, not as an infant but as a young man, one day to be king, conveys the assurance that the noble power structures of the Caroline court are stronger than any one man. Charles I may not have been a king beyond reproach, but he can be seen as a good father, capable of producing a suitable heir.

Karen Hearn (ed.), Van Dyck & Britain, Tate Publishing, London, 2009.
Christopher Brown, Van Dyck