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Van Dyck – Equestrian Portrait of Charles I



Anthony van Dyck: Equestrian Portrait of Charles I: 1637-8

The first thing that strikes you about this painting is the sheer size of it – it’s 12′ by 9′ (that’s over three and a half metres tall by nearly 3 metres wide). It was done to impress – you would have seen this at the end of a long gallery, dominating the space – and the horizon line is at the level of the horse’s stirrup, which means we’re looking up at the King.

This is Charles I. He’s wearing armour – made at the Royal Armouries at Greenwich – and mounted on a huge horse. He’s carrying a baton, the traditional symbol of military command (think of Niccolo da Tolentino in the Uccello painting) and his servant on the right is about to hand the king a plumed helmet. Around his neck is a locket bearing the image of George and the Dragon, which identifies him as a Knight of the Order of the Garter. (Inside the locket was a portrait of his wife.) This then is the monarch as warrior king, effortlessly controlling his mount (and for that, read the nation), his eyes focussing on the future.

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