This exquisitely embroidered cabinet miniature of Charles I may have been one of these treasured objects of private devotion, a sign of the original owner's loyalty to the monarchy. Against a background of green satin, the embroiderer—no doubt a professional—worked the image of the king using a variety of minute split, running, and satin stitches, expertly differentiating the textures of Charles's swirling hair (with his distinctive lovelock over the left shoulder), lace-trimmed falling collar, blue silk ribbon bearing the medallion of the Order of the Garter, and doublet with slashed sleeves revealing his white linen shirt beneath. The figure was created separately and later applied to the satin base, with padding below the face to add contour and dimensionality. Most skillful of all is the representation of the king's melancholy blue eyes, the heavy drooping lids augmenting the image's pathos and thus its reliquary potential, in a period when images of Charles as the "Man of Sorrows" circulated widely and played up the tragedy of his regicide. In its realistic rendering of flesh, hair, and textiles, the portrait recalls the painterly style of opus anglicanum embroidery, perfected in England in the twelfth century, and parallels the sophisticated naturalism of works by Flemish and Dutch artists in fashion at Charles's court.
The ultimate source for this image, and other similar embroidered miniatures, is an engraving after Wenceslaus Hollar that appeared as the frontispiece of the Reliquiae Sacrae Carolinae (1651), a book containing monarchist writings and a new edition of the popular Eikon Basilike, the supposed spiritual autobiography of the late king. Hollar's original etching (printed in 1641) excised the figures of the king and his wife, Henrietta Maria, from an engraving in turn copied from an original 1632 double portrait in oil by Anthony Van Dyck. Hollar placed the monarchs within blank cartouches, and updated the style of the king's lace collar (from needle lace to more delicate Flemish bobbin lace), rendered with dexterous fidelity in the miniature.
Provenance: Henry Willett (1823-1905), a founder of the Brighton Museum; by descent.
For more information, see the Cora Ginsburg 2017 catalogue.