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Work Charles I at the Hunt

Department of Paintings: Flemish painting

Charles I, King of England (1600-1649), also known as Le Roi à la chasse

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Paintings
Flemish painting

Author(s):
Collange Adeline

One of the masterpieces of the artist's English period, dating from about 1635. It was paid for by the king in 1638, and was meant to be a portrait of the monarch "at the hunt," hence his aristocratic - and therefore elegant and distinguished - rather than specifically royal appearance (there are no monarchic insignia, merely an inscription). An unforgettable lesson in pictorial harmony between human figures (the king and equerries), animals (the horse), and landscape background.

A gentleman out hunting

As the painter noted in a memorandum written in French in about 1638, he portrayed the king "at the hunt." Van Dyck, a former assistant of Rubens whose equestrian portraits were profoundly influenced by Titian, invented a highly innovative royal iconography here. The painting is not, strictly speaking, an official royal portrait. Charles I has no doubt just dismounted for a short rest while two pages are care for his horse. The king is portrayed here as a gracious gentleman, an elegant courtier like the one Baldassare Castiglione described in his famous treatise.

Regal self-assurance

But this elegant portrait, despite its apparent casualness, is nevertheless a statement of royal grandeur. As the Latin inscription, Carolus.I.REX Magnae Britanniae, proclaims, Charles I reigns supreme over Great Britain, hence over the united kingdoms of England and Scotland.
The king's costume is, of course, far too luxurious for a day's hunting: wide-brimmed hat, elaborate turned-down boots, and above all the magnificent doublet on whose silvery fabric the painter displays his mastery of shimmering light effects. He artfully enhances the figure of the king by placing him to one side, well-lit and standing out against a bright sky, while his servants are in the shade on the right. The king is looking out over a coastal landscape illustrating his kingdom's diverse riches. His overall pose is a subtle compromise between gentlemanly nonchalance and regal assurance: one hand proudly on his hip, the other resting on his walking stick, as noble an attribute as the sword at his side. The low-angle viewpoint accentuates the king's haughty expression.

The founder of the English school

The portrait is thought to have been painted around 1635, ten years before the king's tragic death. Van Dyck had left Antwerp for London, where he had become official portrait painter to the English court. His many brilliant portraits of the British aristocracy laid the foundations of the English school. His style, oscillating between aristocratic reserve and sumptuous elegance, influenced Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. It is not known exactly how this picture found its way to France in the 17th century, but we do know that Countess Du Barry acquired it for her chateau at Louveciennes and later sold it to Louis XVI, who would suffer the same fate as Charles I.

Bibliography

Schneider Norbert, L'Art du portrait, Editions Taschen, 2000, p.128-131.

Technical description

  • Anthony van DYCK (Antwerp, 1599 - London, 1641)

    Charles I, King of England (1600-1649), also known as Le Roi à la chasse

  • H. 2.66 m; W. 2.07 m

  • Not kept by Charles I since it does not feature in any inventory of his collections and no doubt taken out of England in the 17th century
    Documented in France before 1738
    Acquired from the comtesse Du Barry by Louis XVI, 1775

    INV. 1236

  • Paintings

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Additional information about the work

Inscription identifying the model: Carolus.I.Rex Magnae BritanniaeSigned A.VAN DIICK.F.