This sensitively drawn portrait of Charles II would appear to date to the mid-1670s, where it relates to a series of portraits and mezzotints of the king. A red chalk drawing in the Royal Collection, previously attributed to Adriaen van der Werff (1659-1722) and later Peter Vandrebanc (1649-97) but now thought to be circle of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80) is one possible source for both an engraving and a mezzotint. The engraving, made by Pieter Vandrebanc in 1677 was described as 'Sould by P. Vandrebanc at ye White beare in Kings Street Covent garde and Iohn Overton at ye White horse without Newgate'.[1] The mezzotint by Abraham Blooteling (1640-90) is particularly close in composition and detail to the present portrait miniature in the details of the costume and the expression in the eyes.

As Sir Peter Lely was one of the few artists who gained an ad vivum sitting with the King, it is not surprising that the contemporary engravings,...

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This sensitively drawn portrait of Charles II would appear to date to the mid-1670s, where it relates to a series of portraits and mezzotints of the king. A red chalk drawing in the Royal Collection, previously attributed to Adriaen van der Werff (1659-1722) and later Peter Vandrebanc (1649-97) but now thought to be circle of Sir Peter Lely (1618-80) is one possible source for both an engraving and a mezzotint. The engraving, made by Pieter Vandrebanc in 1677 was described as 'Sould by P. Vandrebanc at ye White beare in Kings Street Covent garde and Iohn Overton at ye White horse without Newgate'.[1] The mezzotint by Abraham Blooteling (1640-90) is particularly close in composition and detail to the present portrait miniature in the details of the costume and the expression in the eyes.

As Sir Peter Lely was one of the few artists who gained an ad vivum sitting with the King, it is not surprising that the contemporary engravings, mezzotints, and portrait miniatures all relate in some form to his 1675 oil portrait of Charles II.[2] It is possible that this delicately drawn portrait is by an engraver rather than a portrait miniaturist, as both the drawing and paint application differ from the thick application of gouache favoured by miniaturists at this point. A meticulous brush drawing in the British Museum attributed to Blooteling provides a useful comparison [Museum number Gg,1.460]. Blooteling came to England from Amsterdam in 1673 and was one of the first engravers in England to master the technique of mezzotint. The technique employed in this portrait miniature is relatively close to that used by plumbago artists (artists working in graphite on vellum) who produced original drawings which connected to the flourishing print culture of the mid to late 17th century.

Nicholas Dixon would be another candidate for the artist of this miniature. He was a talented and ambitious artist and his position at court, when appointed the King’s “Lymner in ordinary” in 1673, came with the same payment and benefits[3] as his celebrated predecessor, and probable master, Samuel Cooper.[4] Dixon’s artistic prowess was largely channelled into making copies for the King, largely taken from paintings by Cooper, Riley, Kneller and, as in this example, Lely.

Although the artist of this portrait is at present unknown, it is a superbly rendered portrait of the king, the massed hair and intricate detailing of the sitter’s lace jabot particularly well-observed.

[1] Both the drawing (RCIN 912839) and the engraving (RCIN 630472) are Royal Collection Trust.

[2] A later copy of this version, with the gold-coloured, embroidered sleeve showing, can be seen in the collection of The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London [BHC2608]. A tapestry version of this portrait can also be found at the National Maritime Museum, described as by by John Vanderbank after Sir Peter Lely [TXT0108].

[3] Dixon’s salary was £200 per annum with an annual new year’s gift of silver.

[4] Cooper was initially succeeded by Richard Gibson in 1672, but this position was surrender to Dixon after only 15 months.

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500 Years of British Art