Susan Koslow

Renaissance Studies Colloqium

The Image and the Court: Van Dyck, Monarchs and Puritans

The City University of New York

November 17, 2000

Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Curator of Northern Baroque Painting

The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

“The Queen, the Dwarf, and the Court: Van Dyck and the Ideals of the English Monarchy”

Professor Susan Koslow, respondent

Dr. Wheelock’s paper is an authoritative study of Anthony van Dyck’s stunning portrait of Henrietta Maria in Hunting Attire with her Dwarf Jeffrey Hudson (Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Art) (Fig 1). In addition to summarizing what is known about the picture, Wheelock presents discoveries that challenge us to reevaluate its significance and to revise our view of van Dyck’s patronage at the Caroline court. Among Wheelock’s  discoveries two are especially intriguing. The first concerns the finding that in 1633 Charles paid van Dyck to paint a copy of the portrait of Henrietta Maria. This picture was a gift to Thomas Wentworth in October 1633 and was apparently intended as a pendant to Daniel Mytens’ portrait of King Charles I in Garter Robes (Fig. 2) done in the same year. As Wheelock explains, the copy, though inferior to its original, supplies valuable information concerning the original design of the cloth of state in the National Gallery’s portrait. 

The two full-length works were royal gifts to Thomas Wentworth (1593—1641) (Fig. 3). Wentworth, initially an opponent of royalist politics, changed sides and became a trusted member of Charles I’s government. After receiving various dignities— baron and viscount—Wentworth became a firm supporter of monarchic prerogative. In 1632, he was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland and in the summer of the following year, moved to Ireland, where “he rule[d] like a king.”  Shortly before suffering a “martyr’s” fate on behalf of Charles I, in 1641, he was created earl of Strafford (1640).

Although fashioning pendants was commonplace, the  pairing in this instance is indeed surprising, since Charles is  attired in the garb of the Order of the Garter, England’s supreme chivalric order and his attributes assembled on the table next to him –crown, orb and scepter—denote sanctified sovereignty, whereas Henrietta Maria is “informally” garbed, her dress suited to a courtly rural outing. A crown, which will be discussed below, is present, but it indicates a dignity, not divine authority. This unlikely combination is indeed problematic and deserves further study.

The second observation Dr. Wheelock makes is equally consequential. The prevailing belief holds that Charles’ preference for Venetian art determined van Dyck to settle in England. However, Dr. Wheelock proposes that Henrietta Maria was instrumental in this regard, since she, rather than her husband the king, first selected van Dyck as court portraitist. Charles patronized Daniel Mytens until van Dyck’s superiority became all too evident. This new view grants Henrietta Maria even greater agency in fashioning taste at the Caroline court than proposed previously, for it expands her influence into the realm of art patronage and collecting.

This afternoon, I would like to probe several issues relating to Dr. Wheelock’s paper. The first concerns queenship itself, while the second elaborates further on Henrietta Maria’s attire.

The status or dignity of a queen was defined by the men in her life, her husband and her first-born son, rather than by any quality she possessed in her own right. As the king’s consort, her principal role was to bear an heir to secure the  dynasty’s future, while as mother of the heir, she might serve as regent during her son’s minority were the king to die prematurely. Once the heir was married and had reached his majority, the queen was relegated to a minor position; she became dowager-queen and no longer resided at court. The queen did not possess sovereignty in her own right, but only in the exceptional case of regency did she exercise sovereign rights on behalf of her son.

Ample literature exists for the theory and practice of kingship but the dignity of queen was little theorized in early modern Europe; when addressed, it was mainly in the context of kingship. Basilicon Doron (Royal Gift) illustrates this point well. Written in 1598 by King James for his heir, young prince Henry, the text is intended as a manual of instruction, a practical guide “only fit for a king, teaching him his office,” and teach him it does. From hygiene to matters martial, from comportment, speech, and attire, to  gesture and governance, James treats all aspects of a ruler’s life, both public and private, marriage included.

His advice is sage but conventional. Marriage, “one of the greatest actions that a man doeth,’ is undertaken to restrain lust, to procreate and to furnish a helper. Cautioning his son against choosing a bride of lower rank, whose parentage is diseased or whose religion is not his own, he advises the prince to seek a spouse possessing the “accessories” of beauty, wealth, and dynastic connections. Beauty inspires greater love, while wealth and dynastic alliance aid the king’s rule. Drawing principally on Aristotle, but asserting the authority of Scripture, James expounds the nature of the king’s relationship to his wife and the queen’s conduct towards her husband: “Treat her as your own flesh, command her as her Lord, cherish her as your helper, rule her as your pupil, and please her in all things reasonable; but teach her not to be curious in things that belong her not.” As for the queen, willing obedience is the essence of her behavior: “she should be as ready to obey, as ye to command.” In conclusion, James recommends a number of inviolate rules, most importantly, the exclusion of the queen from politics and governance. Household management alone is granted to her, but even here ultimate authority rests with the king.

Basilicon Doron was a very influential text, with a wide readership, even on the continent, where it was translated into Latin, French, and Dutch, among other languages. Perhaps Cardin Le Bret consulted it when writing his well-known treatise on The Sovereignty of the King, published in 1632, in Paris; however, the Frenchmen’s viewpoint is misygonist, a quality altogether lacking in James’s text.

In Chapter VI, titled “About the wives of kings, and the rights they enjoy, even as widows,” Le Bret explains that in monarchies where sovereignty resides in the male line “the wives of kings abstain entirely from the conduct of matters of state, involving themselves only in domestic matters, the management of their household.” The author adds that “it would be very dangerous if women occupying this high diginity were to hold power equally with their husbands because women are by nature ambitious, and would agitate until they succeeded in usurping sovereign authority, and in the end subjugate their husbands.” As arch examples of the domineering queen Semiramis and Jezebel are cited.

Of the two authors, James offers a far more detailed and sympathetic view of the queen-consort, but neither man offers a truly detailed account of this dignity. Where both agree absolutely is in the separation of the queen from governance and matters of state. Her jurisdiction is domestic alone. And even here, in the management of the household, she is not supreme; her husband has the final word. Of course this is theory not practice, an abstraction, not a descriptive account of actuality. In fact, the royal household was a bipartite body, each having separate purses to fund its offices.

Imagery of the queen-consort was rather flexible it appears, unlike a monarch’s portrait, which always indicated sovereignty. Let us turn now to certain pictures of the queen-consort by van Dyck, some of which have been considered in Dr. Wheelock’s paper, and keeping in mind king James’ views, which appear to parallel ideas articulated by van Dyck. 

Altogether Van Dyck painted more than twenty portraits of Charles and Henrietta Maria, but two alone show the couple together, and both date to 1632.  The first is the Great Piece (Fig. 4),  which includes portraits of baby prince Charles and his infant sister princess Mary, while the second depicts Charles and Henrietta Maria in half-length exchanging a symbolic wreath, probably signifying fertility (Fig. 5). For the queen’s portrait van Dyck replicated a painting showing her gravid (Fig. 6), a work incidentally cherished by Charles, as attested by its installation in his bedroom. The crown appearing in that picture identifies Henrietta Maria as queen (Fig. 7), but it is not an actual likeness any of the crowns used in the ceremony of coronation, the imperial state crown, housed in the Tower, and the venerable crown at Westminster, reputed to have belonged to Edith, England’s first Queen. The crown van Dyck depicts  probably dates to the early seventeenth century or late sixteenth century, according to Ronald Lightbown. It functions as an attribute of queenship, substituting for the regalia that actually conferred the queen’s royal dignity; these could not be represented because Henrietta Maria had declined coronation. It is this “new” crown that appears in the picture of Henrietta Maria in Hunting Attire with her Dwarf Jeffrey Hudson (Fig. 8)

This portrait stands in stark contrast to the pictures discussed previously. Here, Henrietta Maria attired in hunting dress emerges from a magnificent palace and pauses on a low platform before stepping down to enter the park. Although her father, Henri IV, and her brother, Louis XIII, were renowned huntsmen, Henrietta did not share their cynegetic passion or the Stuart’s either: James was so obsessed with hunting that he was chastised for not spending more time attending to governance in London; his son Henry was commemorated for his cyngetic prowess in Peake’s fascinating portrait (Fig. 9), while Henrietta’s mother-in law Anne of Denmark was a devotee of the chase, a fact recognized by the Archduchess Isabella, who sent the queen a gift of three good-sized boars.   In 1617, Anne of Denmark commissioned a life-sized portrait of herself dressed for the hunt, with her dogs, horse, and black groom (Fig. 10). She stands in the chase of Oatlands, a gift she had received from James, in 1611. Possessing the lordship of Oatlands, Anne was entitled to hunt there. Although a noble prerogative, the hunt could only be pursued where a manor’s lordship accorded hunting rights. Incidentally, lordship or seignory is a legal term associated with feudalism that refers to rights and privileges attached to a  manor. Thus, the portrait of Anne of Denmark stakes specific claim to hunting privileges at Oatlands, but not to rights elsewhere.

Van Dyck’s portrait of Henrietta Maria is a notable departure from its antecedent. Except for attire, the whole cynegetic panoply has been laid aside; not even a hound is pictured. Furthermore, the locale is unspecified, even though Henrietta Maria possessed the lordship of numerous estates, including Oatlands, thanks to the generosity of Charles. The hunting reference apparently has been contracted to its essence, to a symbolic representation of lordship rather than to the sport of hunting itself. But since Henrietta Maria is not merely a high-born aristocrat with hunting rights, but queen, the crown is a necessary attribute to distinguish her as occupying the highest dignity among the women of Britain; moreover, it rests on a cloth of state of sumptuous gold, as befits her rank.

There is another dimension, I believe, to Henrietta Maria’s guise as huntress that deserves comment. As Dr. Wheelock explained, van Dyck’s picture was painted soon after the publication of the puritan William Prynne’s dyspetic social critique that included a harsh denunciation of “women actors,” whom he labeled “notorious whores.” Although Prynne did not name names, the court rightly viewed his diatribe as aimed at Henrietta Maria and took action against him. Sentenced to the stocks, Prynne was also subjected to the painful and humiliating punishment of having his ears severed. While it is unlikely that Prynne witnessed a masque, he might well have heard vivid descriptions of these entertainments, and among the persons who would have drawn comment was the queen. Her attire in the 1631 masque Chloridia may well have caused a buzz,  scandalizing Prynne (Figs. 11, 12). Jones’ costume designs for Chloris, the character Henrietta Maria played, are provocative, even to the modern eye and in the end Jones raised her decolletage, but only a little, just enough to hide the queen’s nipples. Lesser characters were able to flaunt their breasts unimpeded (Fig. 13).

Considering the moment when the portrait was painted, the picture might be construed even as an apologia for the queen. She is very proper indeed; her high lace collar and ample scarf obscure her bosom entirely. Although not to the taste of a rigorous puritan, Henrietta’s stunning indigo--blue silk costume does not even hint at impropriety. Indeed, it is remarkable for its stylish simplicity, even chasteness. This virtue is, of course, appropriate to a huntress, for it recalls the supreme huntress Diana, a deity already identified with Henrietta Maria in Honthorst’s famous allegorical picture of 1628 at Hampton Court (Fig. 14). Henrietta Maria’s mastery of the passions is indicated by the gentle gesture of restraint she imposes on her pet monkey, an unregenerate creature traditionally known for its sensuality. As Dr. Wheelock has pointed out, it is likely that the Caroline court’s cult of neo-platonic love may well have bearing on the representation of this creature too, particularly since Henrietta Maria was instrumental in introducing and cultivating this aestheticized discourse of love.

What remains to be considered is how this picture complements Mytens’ portrait of Charles, the first knight of Great Britain.



Further comments addressed to Dr. Wheelock regarding the pairing of the portraits of Charles and Henrietta Maria: Whether such paintings were planned initially as pendants will probably remain obscure but in any case they did hang side by side shortly after they were painted, at least at Wentworth’s estate. Thus, it seems to me that an implicit association links them, or, better yet, would have been perceived as connecting them in 1633.

Each picture complements its companion, emphasizing political and cultural policies pursued by the dynast Charles. The subject of Mytens’ picture is the Sovereign, Charles, the restorer of the Order of the Garter. Of course, the order had not fallen into decline, but Charles wanted to give it a higher profile than it had enjoyed earlier. As the oldest chivalric order in Europe, the Garter Order gave Charles special standing among the dynasts of Europe; moreover, it emphasized his primacy in English society, according to the old model of sovereignty, before Parliament became a powerful governmental structure, competing with the king for authority. Underscoring his primacy was critical for Charles during the institution of his personal rule.

Thus, Mytens shows Charles as sovereign of the Order of the Garter to emphasize the return to “the good old days,” the days of chivalry and knighthood. Van Dyck’s picture of Henrietta Maria underscores different concerns. In addition to the readings I proposed at the symposium, I would like to add another. As I wrote elsewhere (Frans Snyders, The Noble Estate…; Rubens’s Wolf and Fox Hunt) hunting is a peacetime pursuit enjoyed by the nobility when hostilities cease. Thus, the hunting dress Henrietta Maria wears is a powerful reminder of this circumstance in Britain. England was at peace with its various enemies, finally, and a new age, an Augustan era instituted.

The two portraits suggest a coherent program: a return to “the good old days,” with a resumption of its values and practices. In turn, this brings about an era of peace and  prosperity. In this account, the orange tree may well play a meaningful role. Although the potted plant is a “descendant” of the one placed on the balustrade of Rubens’s portrait of the Genoese noblewoman Brigida Spinola-Doria, its significance here, as you point out, refers to Henrietta Maria’s involvement with horticultural pursuits; but I wonder if this notion might be taken somewhat further, with the plant referring to the art of agriculture in general, a pursuit synonymous with peace. (Henrietta, of course, practices courtly agriculture—horticulture). But I think there may well be another equally significant allusion, namely to the tree that bears the golden fruit (apple) of the Hesperides, the Fortunate Isles—also known as the Blessed Isles of Ben Jonson’s poetry. These are identified with Britain, an Edenic realm too. The creature’s head on the flower pot, though it resembles a lion, might even be seen as an allusion to the monster that guarded the tree bearing golden fruit.

One further observation is warranted. Charles I wears the scarlet gown of the Order of the Garter, a color introduced by Elizabeth I (Actually, at that time her regulations specified purple. For terminological problems concerning red dyes in the early modern period, see Amy Butler Greenfield, A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire (New York: HarperCollins, 2005). When Edward III instituted the order in 1344, members were required to wear blue mantles, as were their wives. Originally wool was used, but in the reign of Henry VI (1429—1471), velvet was required. New rules regarding the knights’ dress were  instituted by Charles I, who insisted, in 1639, on returning to blue. According to the order’s historian Elias Ashmole, (1617—1692), The institution, laws and ceremonies of the most noble order of the Garter, the king wanted “to restore the color of the mantle to the primitive institution namely a rich celestial blue.” To that purpose, he ordered “a parcel of velvets of that color from Genoa,” and when the cloth arrived he distributed it among “the knight-companions.”  In Mytens’ portrait, blue is present in the fine hose the king dashingly displays. Perhaps this is the first intimation of the rules instituted four years later. Could Henrietta Maria have anticipated them by choosing to be portrayed in a blue gown?

For the published paper see, Arthur Wheelock, “The Queen, The Dwarf and the Court: Van Dyck and the Ideals of the English Monarchy,” Van Dyck 1599—1999: Conjectures and Refutations, ed. Hans Vlieghe (Turnhout: Brepols, 2001), 151-66. On the portraits of Henrietta Maria, see Oliver Millar in Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004) 522---4. For English royal regalia, see Ronald Lightbown, “The King’s Regalia, Insignia and Jewellery,” in The Late King’s Goods: Collections, Possessions and patronage in the light of the Commonwealth Sale Inventories, ed. Arthur MacGregor (London: Oxford University Press, 1989), 257—75.

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