A view of Greenwich

c.1632

Adriaen van Stalbemt with Jan van Belcamp

Painted for Charles I

 

A View of Greenwich is a collaboration of two similarly minor artists brought over by Charles I from the Low Countries: Adriaen van Stalbemt, a landscape painter from Antwerp, and Jan van Belcamp, a Dutch copyist (rather than portrait painter) who worked with Abraham van der Doort on the management of the King’s collection of paintings.

Greenwich Palace was the favorite haunt of the Tudor monarchs; Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth I were all born here. The broad outlines of the Tudor palace can be made out: to the left the remains of the Friary (little more than a rectangular space), built c.1481; the main block running along the river front; to the right Henry VIII’s tilt-yard, with the two towers linked by a gallery for spectators. James I settled Greenwich upon his Queen, Anne of Denmark, and began building the Queen’s House in 1616-9, visible here as a single-story stump, occupying the position of the gate house in the older palace and similarly straddling the public road. The view must be taken from directly in front of the observation tower, built in the 1430s by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, on the site of the present observatory.

The City of London lies off the left hand margin of Stalbemt’s view. On its right hand side, in the bend of the Thames and at the mouth of the Lea, is Blackwall, the site of a shipyard and mooring for large ocean-going vessels (a few visible here), especially those owned by the East India Company. It was from here that Captain John Smith sailed for America in 1606; the East India Dock occupied this site from 1806 until 1967. The field over the river is the site of the Millenium Dome.

The figures strolling in the foreground are probably all copied by Belcamp from larger portraits and added as if in a sticker-book. Apart from the three members of the royal family, few can be recognised: the man on the extreme left may be the Richard Weston, 1st Earl of Portland (1577-1635, and Lord High Treasurer 1628-33) or Inigo Jones; the swaggering man talking to him is certainly Endymion Porter (1587-1649); the man labouring up the hill between him and the king could be Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke. Three or four of the other figures look like portraits, and would thus have been recognized by contemporaries, the others must be generic lords and ladies of the court. Some pike-men rest behind, while further down the slope some men practice fencing.

These are the elements of this painting; it is more difficult to say what brings them together. The most likely explanation is that this is a ‘site visit’ and marks the resumption of work on the Queen’s House, which was completed by Charles I during the years 1630-38, for his Queen, Henrietta Maria. This clearly depends upon whether the left hand figure can indeed be identified with the architect of the house and prominent courtier, Inigo Jones. It may be that the King simply wanted to be seen frequenting a park which had been so important to the previous dynasty.


Oil on canvas

83.5 x 107 cm

Signed: A v Stalb . . J v B

RCIN 405291

Text adapted from The Conversation Piece: Scenes of fashionable life, London, 2009