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Audio Guide - Adult

Portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria, 1638

Artist: Anthony van Dyck, Flemish, 1599 - 1641

Medium: Oil on canvas

Painting: 25 1/4 x 19 in. (64.1 x 48.3 cm)
Frame: 35 3/4 x 29 3/4 x 4 1/8 in. (90.8 x 75.6 x 10.5 cm)

Credit Line: Memphis Park Commission purchase

Object Number: 43.30

On View

Queen Henrietta Maria or King Charles I, 1638, gave portrait to James, 1st Duke of Hamilton, and his wife, Margaret Fielding Hamilton Collection (sale, London, Christie's, lot 75, June 17, 1882); Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 1882; J. E. Reiss (Reiss sale, Feb. 6, 1914, lot 114); Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 1914; Mr. G. L. Brevan, London, 1914; Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 1916; Mrs. Brevan, London, 1927; The King's Galleries, London, 1927; Warner S. McCall Collection, St. Louis, Missouri, 1943

Anthony van Dyck was born in Antwerp and worked briefly in the studio of the famous Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, who referred to him as the best of his students. The precocious van Dyck became a court painter to Charles I, who knighted him in 1632. The king recognized van Dyck as the great heir to Titian and commissioned many portraits of himself and of his French queen, Henrietta Maria.

This painting of Henrietta Maria is thought to be one of three portraits commissioned for the Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini to use in sculpting a portrait bust of the queen. In 1635 Bernini had completed a bust of Charles I (lost in a fire at Whitehall) from a triple portrait by van Dyck. The royal couple was pleased with the result and immediately commissioned a reluctant Bernini to complete a similar bust of the queen.

 

Two additional painted portrait busts of Henrietta Maria remain in the Royal Collection: a frontal view and a left-facing profile view. The Brooks right-facing profile might have been a third image of this set. The vague shadow of a frontal portrait, however, visible on the right edge of the Brooks canvas, suggests the painting was cut down from its original size and the frontal image painted over. It is therefore possible that the Brooks portrait was not painted at the same time as the two canvases in the Royal Collection. None of the paintings was ever sent to Bernini, presumably due to the political problems facing the English court. In 1642 the English Civil War began and Henrietta Maria fled England for France.

 

This portrait of Henrietta Maria is one of van Dyck’s finest images of the queen. It is exceptional for the relaxed image of the sitter, communicating an almost conversational mood. The soft ringlets that encircle her head seem to echo the opalescent pearls in her hair and around her graceful neck. The beautifully painted satin gown, lace collar, and delicate shawl emphasize the elegance and sensitivity of the queen.