English School , Mid-Seventeenth Century
The handling of the sumptuous fabrics and the detail in the Garter chain reveals an artist of great capabilities...
Charles I is arguably the most notorious monarch in British history; the belief in his God-given right to rule, independent of Parliament, ultimately led to a divided nation and the death of some two-hundred-thousand Englishmen.
The Order of the Garter was (and still is) the highest order of chivalry within the United Kingdom. It is comprised of the sovereign and twenty-four elected Companions and was traditionally awarded to those who had demonstrated bravery and valour, most often on the battlefield.
Charles was a keen advocate of the Garter and in a revealing letter to his son Prince Charles (later Charles II) (1630-85), whom he had recently invited to become a Companion, he expressed his hope that “the emulacon of chevalrie will in your tender yeares provoke and encourage you to pursue the glory of heroiq accons befitting your royal birth & our care & educacon”.
The king frequently supported the dissemination of Garter imagery, most notably perhaps in c.1639, when Charles commissioned Van Dyck to draw designs for a series of tapestries showing the history and ceremonials associated with the order. One of these sketches is now in collection of the Ashmoleon Museum, Oxford [WA2002.55], and shows the Knights of the Garter in procession – perhaps the procession held at Prince Charles’ investiture in 1638.
This work is a small-scale variant of Daniel Mytens’s celebrated full-length portrait of 1633. The king is shown standing beside his crown, orb and sceptre – symbolic attributes of the head of state - and proudly stands wearing his robes. The handling of the sumptuous fabrics and the detail in the Garter chain reveals an artist of great capabilities.
Mytens enjoyed a lucrative and stable period as court painter following his arrival c.1618, seeing off challenges from rivals such as Gerrit Van Honthorst and continuing to update the King’s image with typical sensitivity amid the ever changing political situation. It was the arrival of Van Dyck however in 1632 that ultimately led to Mytens’s downfall; Van Dyck’s superior style and dynamic compositions soon made Mytens’s work seem dated and, at some point between 1633 and 1634, he left England for the Netherlands.
 Charles I letter to Charles, Prince of Wales, 20 May 1638, Ashmole MS1108, f.117, Bodleian Library (Bod.), printed in Elias Ashmole, The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (1672), quoted in Richard Cust (2013), Charles I and the Order of the Garter, Journal of British Studies, Vol.52, p.343.
Saint Louis Art Museum, USA, [118:1916].