I am no historian, but considering that it is some 200 years old, there are a few important facts to consider with regard to this piece. This is a representation of Charles II as a boy with his siblings on either side of him. It is the famous painting entitled, “The Five Eldest Children of Charles I,” by Sir Anthony van Dyck and completed in 1637. (The figures on either side of Charles were reversed for some reason only known to the needleworker. To compare, the painting can be seen on various internet sites.)
This painting is today in the Royal collection, hanging in the Queen’s Ballroom in Windsor Castle. Van Dyck (1599-1641) was a Flemish Baroque artist who is most famous for his portraits of the first Charles on the British throne and his family and court. His concept of painting his subjects with a relaxed elegance was a change for this subject matter, as was his treatment of children more naturally than as small adults. Trained under Reubens, van Dyck was a favorite painter of the king, who lavishly spent money on art in his early years as monarch. The king induced the artist to remain in England, providing him with a home and making him a knight.
Born in 1630, the main subject in the piece eventually ascended to the British throne as Charles II in 1660, but not before his father was executed after the second of three of the country’s civil wars, which ran from 1642 to 1651, and after having been defeated by Cromwell’s forces in Scotland in the third. Without further delving into the complex matters of 17th century British politics, we can say Charles II then ruled from 1860 until his death in 1685. He was called the “Merry Monarch” in reference to the liveliness and hedonism of his court, especially after the somewhat more somber tone of the previous 10 years of rule by Cromwell and the Puritans.
This is only the second needlework piece that I have found that takes after this painting. Because needleworkers would often copy famous paintings, it is puzzling that I have only come across it once before. Considering what a masterpiece the original painting is, one would think that copies done in 18th and 19th century needlework would be more numerous. Perhaps it is simply that few people were skilled enough to take on such a project.
This piece is exquisitely worked in fine silk floss that has retained a beautiful and lustrous sheen to it. I am in awe at the skill of the stitcher when it came to duplicating the elaborate and intricate lace collars, cuffs, and hats and the trim on the costumes. The stitcher also padded the embroidery with an overlay stitch to emulate the string of pearls that two of the figures wear. The gowns are beautifully done in long and short stitches, showing the folds of the costumes as well as their opulence.
The principal subject, Charles I, is dressed in a red velvet-looking outfit with red socks and shoes that are wildly ornamental with large red roses attached to them. The needlework was done in such a way that incorporates silk floss of pink and red intermingled so as to both shade and highlight the body curves at the same time. Even the short pants have multiple bows streaming from bands below the knee.
As difficult as it is to take your eyes away from the figures dressed in beautiful costumes of the period, there are other wonderful aspects to this incredible piece of silk needlework. The depiction of the huge pet mastiff with its large collar and calming presence, set in center stage, adds gravitas to the thoughtful young king-to-be. The dog is worked in short and long stitches in such a manner as to create the folds of the dog’s skin, as well as showing the toes, large nose, wide-set eyes and the relatively small ears of the breed. The collar has also been intricately stitched to resemble a leather collar with a brass plate.
I couldn’t help but notice the wonderful manner in which our stitcher has duplicated the pattern of the carpet. She has used long threads of silk for her base, and overlaid a variety of short stitches in motifs that would have appeared on the carpet.
Lying at the foot of the elaborate child’s bed on the bottom left of the piece is a brown and white toy spaniel, most likely an ancestor of the dog later known as the King Charles spaniel. This dog is stitched in long and short stitches to show his fur and other features.
On the left side and above a table is an interesting basket of fruit sitting next to a large jug, as in the original painting, but here in long and short stitches. The colors used to depict the leaves and the grapes are delightful.
Our stitcher did not want to leave out the garden in the background, and accomplished incorporating the trees with a myriad of very short stitches to resemble leaves. She has worked this series of short stitches in several shades of blue and green, which turned out exceptionally well and adds a wonderful texture to this incredible piece of embroidery.
The curtains are principally worked in gold and brown silk thread. This large space depicting the drawing room’s curtains provides a beautiful background for the elegantly costumed figures.
As was the style of the period of the needleworker, the faces, hands and the entire baby were painted in watercolor. However, the painting is very professional and quite unlike most other silkwork pieces. The features are realistically done and the hands are even shaded to look natural. The baby has been realistically painted as well, which is in itself quite a feat, and again, unlike most other 19th century silkworks.
I have housed this piece in a handsome, wide, antique rosewood frame with a gesso and gilded slip that has turned a pretty shade of lemon-yellow. I think it suits this elegant piece of silkwork very well. The condition of the frame is excellent. There was a knot in the wood in the bottom left corner that appears to have had a restoration at some time.
The condition of the silkwork is simply superb, with no staining or splits to report. It has miraculously escaped foxing and insect damage as well. It has obviously been a treasured family piece and kept in a safe spot. The color retention alone is magnificent. It is nearly impossible to acquire such a fine early piece with as vivid and deep colors of silk floss, stitching expertise and character.
It measures 24 inches wide by 20-1/2 inches high, including the frame.
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