School of Francois Clouet (1510-1572)
Charles III’s subsequent reign was, in the words of one historian, the ‘most brilliant in the history of Lorraine’. Subsequently known by the soubriquet ‘the Great’, Charles undertook a series of sweeping administrative reforms, and succeeded in expanding the boundaries of the duchy eastwards.
Once thought to have represented the English king, Edward VI (1537-1553), recent research has identified the more likely candidate of Charles III, Duke of Lorraine (1543-1608)...
A very similar portrait of this type is in the collection of the Earl of Pembroke at Wilton House, housed opposite a pendant of François II (1544-1560), son of King Henri II (1519-1559), and subsequently king of France in his own right. That this second sitter is François is almost certain, given the closeness with which the facial features conform to other known portraits of the boy-king. However, the possibility that the first sitter is his brother, Charles IX of France (1550-1574) – as per the identification traditionally given to the Wilton portrait – can be discarded. Not only does the sitter of this and the present work bear little resemblance to other known portraits of Charles IX in his youth, but both sitters are shown at the same age, in spite of the fact that there was in reality a difference of six years between the brothers.
Instead, Charles III of Lorraine provides a much more likely candidate. First, there is a close facial resemblance of this portrait to another of the duke by Francois Clouet housed in the Musée Condé, Domaine de Chantilly. Further, Charles was only a year older than François and was close to the dauphin in his youth. Having been taken to Paris by Henri II as a hostage in 1552 following the French seizure of the bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun, Charles – as a royal prince of almost exactly the same age as Francois – became a friend and playmate of the young heir to the throne. These ties were made closer still when in 1559, when a peace between the houses of Valois and Lorraine was secured by marrying Charles to Henri’s daughter, and François’s sister, Claude (1547-1575). Following Henri’s death in a joust in June of 1559, Charles was given permission to return with his wife to Lorraine thanks, in part, to the intercession of his former playmate, now king.
Charles III’s subsequent reign was, in the words of one historian, the ‘most brilliant in the history of Lorraine’. Subsequently known by the soubriquet ‘the Great’, Charles undertook a series of sweeping administrative reforms, and succeeded in expanding the boundaries of the duchy eastwards. A man of culture and sophistication, Charles was also a patron of the arts and supported the foundation of the University of Pont à Mousson. Politically, Charles exerted his influence on a national scale. His decision to support the Catholic League in 1584 and subsequently to apply pressure to the new, Protestant king, Henri IV (1553-1610), by presenting his son as an alternative claimant to the throne, was one of the factors that forced Henri to convert to Catholicism in 1594.
The work reveals the hallmarks of the school of François Clouet. In keeping with the style of Clouet and his school, the sitter is shown in full-length standing in front of a green curtain. Analysis of the paper suggests a mid-sixteenth-century northern French origin, meaning that it could have been executed contemporaneously with Charles’s period at the French court.