Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Miniature of King Charles I when Prince of Wales, 1616

Miniautre of King Charles I when Prince of Wales.  Watercolor on vellum applied to card.
Sir Balthazar Gerbier, 1616
Nineteenth Century silver frame.
The Victoria & Albert Museum

What a pretty lady. Oh! Wait…it’s not a lady. This rather awkward miniature of a very feminine-looking gent is by an amateur painter, Sir Balthazar Gerbier, explaining its rough and confusing look. Gerbier was born in the Netherlands, and basically, he trained for the life of a courtier, including the useful art of drawing. Unprepared for anything else, Gerbier entered the service of Prince William of Orange in 1615 who sent the man to England in an ambassadorial capacity in 1616. While in England, Gerbier transferred his services and allegiance to the then Earl (later the Duke) of Buckingham who was a very close companion of King James I. Gerbier became the Duke of Buckingham’s domestic architect and adviser on art, roles for which he was ill-suited.

During the early 17th century in England, a gentleman was expected to show an interest in miniature painting as a complement to their gentlemanly knowledge of heraldry which was a favored skill under the early Stuart monarchs. Gerbier was ambitious, but not especially skilled in much of anything, so, to him, a knowledge of miniature painting techniques must have seemed useful.

Gerbier entered the service of King Charles I in 1628, just after the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham. The Dutchman’s charms found favor with Charles I and he was knighted in 1638. The two had previously been quite chummy through his association with Buckingham.

This youthful portrait of the future Charles I shows Charles just after he had been made Prince of Wales. The prince is depicted wearing the blue ribbon of the Order of the Garter. Clearly, this clunky miniature was not painted from life, but rather is a clumsy copy of a full-size portrait.

This is not the original frame. The miniature was re-set in the Nineteenth Century in this silver frame with a rolled edge bezel and a loop made up of wire flanked by two detached scrolls of flat wire.

The same miniature on the right with another by Gerbier on the left depicting, perhaps, the Duke of Gloucester.

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