How not to paint the royal portrait

A portrait of King Charles II, attributed to Thomas Hawker

attributed to Thomas Hawker, oil on canvas, circa 1680

This to me is not a portrait of a king you’d want to obtain an audience with. It is dull to the eye, the background just adds token symbolism, and at closer inspection there seems to be a mistake. Looking at the top flap above the buckle, the shoes Charles II is wearing appear to be different. Is there something weak about the king? On my recent visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London I overheard a curator telling a school group that she thought the model for this portrait of the king was a woman, because of the slenderness of the frame painted here. There is a cut-and-paste feel to this painting as the body seems disconnected from its surroundings, and a glum Charles seems to be perched not too comfortably on his seat. His stiffly held head jarrs with the laxness of his posture. Shakespeare’s Henry IV said, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”, and here the sense of unease and weariness is covered up by a generous assemblage of coloured drapery. What are your thoughts? Apart from pointing out that Charles is not, in fact, wearing a crown and that his royal status is merely implied (though of course I may be overlooking important insignia he is wearing)…

King Charles II's mismatched shoes


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