Anthony Van Dyck

Charles II as a boy - The Harley Foundation

Anthony Van Dyck (1599 – 1641) was the lead court painter to Charles I and made paintings of the King and his family. He was known for the elegance of his portraits, which showed particular skill in painting the materials and textures of their costumes.

William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Portland (1593 – 1676) deeply admired the Anthony Van Dyck’s paintings. He commissioned a number of works by the painter including portraits of himself and his second wife, Margaret Lucas.

He is thought to have also commissioned this portrait of Prince Charles as an eight year old boy.

Charles II as a young boy, Anthony van Dyck, 1638. © Harley Foundation, The Portland Collection


William Cavendish was close to King Charles II throughout his life. He became the prince’s tutor in 1638 and clearly enjoyed this role – describing Prince Charles as “the handsomest, and most comely horseman in the world”.  It’s thought that Cavendish commissioned this portrait from Van Dyck, to mark this new role.

In this painting the prince is dressed in child-sized armour – symbolising the weight of his future responsibilities. But this armour was not purely symbolic. During this period, boys began their military training at a very young age. They would first learn to fight on foot before being taught mounted combat. Charles was only 12 when he first fought in the Battle of Edgehill, during the English Civil War.

This painting has been shown in all three of William Cavendish’s houses. It was hanging at Bolsover Castle in around 1710, then at Nottingham Castle (recorded in 1717). By 1747 it was hanging at Welbeck Abbey.

Since 2016 the portrait has been on display in The Portland Collection museum.

There are several versions of this portrait including the one at the National Portrait Gallery, London. However, it is widely agreed that the Welbeck version is the original.


Rebecca Hardy

Rebecca Hardy

Rebecca Hardy trained as a fine artist and has been working in the culture sector for over a decade. She writes for a number of publications on topics such as art history, contemporary exhibitions, and museum marketing.

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