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“Equestrian Portrait of Charles I” by Anthony van Dyck

"Equestrian Portrait of Charles I" by Anthony van Dyck

“Equestrian Portrait of Charles I” by Anthony van Dyck

“Equestrian Portrait of Charles I” by Anthony van Dyck glorifies Charles I on horseback after he becomes King of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1625. The portrait was painted about 1637–38, only a few years before the English Civil War broke out. Charles is depicted wearing his suit of armour, riding a heavily muscled horse with a peculiarly small head. To the right of the picture, a page is holding up the King’s helmet.

Van Dyck became the Charles’ Principal Painter in Ordinary in 1632, and he has painted Charles as a heroic philosopher king, carrying a baton of command, with a long sword and wearing the medallion of the Sovereign of the Order of the Garter. His distant expression was designed to demonstrate wisdom. The tablet tied to a branch reads CAROLUS I REX MAGNAE BRITANIAE (Charles I King of Great Britain). This was a political statement referring to the united crowns of Scotland and England.  Charles I, proclaimed himself King of Great Britain, and nearly 70 years before the Acts of Union legally created the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Anthony van Dyck was a Flemish Baroque artist who became the leading court painter in England, after enjoying great success in Italy and the Southern Netherlands. He is most famous for his portraits of Charles I of England and his family and court, painted with a relaxed elegance that was to be the dominant influence on English portrait-painting for the next 150 years.

Charles I of England

Charles I (1600 – 1649) was monarch from 1625, and soon after his succession, Charles quarrelled with the Parliament of England, which sought to curb his royal prerogative. Charles believed in the divine right of kings and thought he could govern according to his conscience. Many of his subjects opposed his policies which led to the English Civil War. After his defeat in 1645, Charles refused to accept his captors’ demands for a constitutional monarchy and was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason in 1649. The monarchy was abolished and a republic called the Commonwealth of England was declared. The monarchy was later restored to Charles’s son, Charles II, in 1660.

Anthony van Dyck

Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599 – 1641) was a Flemish artist who became the leading court painter in England after success in the Southern Netherlands and Italy. Van Dyck started painting from an early age. He gained early success as a painter, becoming a master in the Antwerp guild in 1618. He worked in the studio of Peter Paul Rubens, who became a major influence on his work.

Van Dyck worked in London for some months in 1621, then returned to Flanders for a brief time, before travelling to Italy, where he stayed until 1627. He spent five years after his return from Italy in Flanders, and from 1630 was court painter for Archduchess Isabella, Habsburg Governor of Flanders. In 1632 he returned to London to be the main court painter, at the request of Charles I of England.

He is best known for his portraits of European aristocracy, most notably Charles I and his family and associates. He also painted mythological and biblical subjects, including altarpieces and was an important innovator in watercolour and etching. Charles I, granted him a knighthood, and he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Equestrian Portrait of Charles I

  • Title:             Equestrian Portrait of Charles I
  • Artist:           Anthony van Dyck
  • Year:             1638
  • Medium:      Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: H: 365 cm (11.9 ft); W: 289 cm (113.7 in)
  • Museum:      National Gallery, London

Anthony van Dyck

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  • Is this a perfect example of “pride comes before a fall”?
  • Charles believed in the divine right of kings. Do some politicians suffer from this pride?
  • Should politicians govern according to their conscience or the law?


“Democracy is the power of equal votes for unequal minds.”
– Charles I of England


Photo Credit: 1) Anthony van Dyck [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons