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John Michael Wright (1617-94)

Charles II (1630-1685) c.1676

Oil on canvas | 281.9 x 239.2 cm | RCIN 404951

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This powerful painting is an outstanding example of the artist’s work, as well as an enduring image of monarchy restored. The King wears St Edward’s crown, is dressed in parliamentary robes over the Garter costume and carries the new orb and sceptre. These were made specially by Sir Robert Vyner, the King’s goldsmith as the earlier regalia had been destroyed during the Interregnum and a still-life image depicting the regalia is in the Museum of London (90.344/2).

Although this painting would appear to have been painted in 1661, soon after Charles II’s Coronation on 23rd April in that year, various elements of the King's costume suggest that it might date from the 1670s. The wig for example, is of the full bottomed type popular in that decade and the jewelled buckles depicted on the monarch's shoes were popularised in the latter half of the 1660s. Moreover Wright mentions in a letter dated 27 July 1676, 'I am told the King will sitt to my great picture for the Citty this next moneth' (although the painting to which this refers is not clear). The sitter's face also appears to be that of a man older than thirty-one.

The portrait is unusually formal for this date, as the King is shown in a pose more commonly seen on seals and coins. However, Wright’s picture refers to both contemporary French painting, and earlier English depictions of monarchs, such as Elizabeth I and Henry VIII, and is deliberately being used to emphasise the continuity of the royal line. The King is seated in front of a tapestry apparently representing the Judgment of Solomon, which may allude to his wisdom.