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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
James VI & I (1566-1625)
The Antwerp trained artist Paul van Somer had arrived in London by December 1616, having travelled extensively in northern Europe. Like Daniel Mytens, who had settled in London from the Netherlands by 1618 and was Van Somer’s neighbour in St Martin’s Lane, Van Somer brought a new grandeur, fluency and naturalism to British court portraiture. During his five-year career in London he became the favourite painter of Anne of Denmark, wife of James VI and I, and then of the King, supplanting Marcus Gheeraerts and John de Critz.
Van Somer reintroduced regalia into the official portrait. James VI and I, once described as ‘in the whole man … not uncomely’, rests his left hand on a table on which are the crown, sceptre and orb. His right hand holds up the badge of the Order of the Garter (the Lesser George) on its broad Riband and around his left leg is the Garter showing part of the motto ‘HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE’. Around his neck is the gorget of a suit of Greenwich armour, the rest of which lies at his feet and bears the initials IR (Iacobus Rex; King James). A gorget and a reinforcing beaver (movable piece used to protect the lower part of the face) of Greenwich armour, now in the Royal Armouries, Leeds, have been connected with the armour in this portrait. James I was impatient of giving sittings for portraits and an important version such as this was copied and repeated as late as 1623. Many versions and variants still exist, also in printed form; a copy of the head was painted in miniature by John Hoskins. The painted versions, like the portraits by Mytens, were commissioned as official gifts, some to be sent overseas to hang alongside contemporary portraits of other European rulers. In the 1630s Anthony van Dyck based his posthumous portrait of James I (now in St George’s Hall, Windsor) on this likeness.
Inscribed on the contemporary, but damaged, cartellino: Jacobus D : G: Mag: Bri…/ fran: et Hiberniæ Rex / 1618 (the last digit is obscure and could be read as a ‘5’)