By the middle of the 1630s the great Italian sculptor and architect Gianlorenzo Bernini was at the height of his powers, his name known throughout Europe, already recognized as the greatest sculptor of his time; he was what we'd now call an "art superstar". The current King of England, Charles I, could think of no one better to immortalize his royal image in marble. And so he commissioned a portrait bust, writing to Bernini that the artist's name was "exalted above those of all men of talent who have exercised your profession." Since the king had no intention of traveling to Rome, and the sculptor wouldn't come to England, Charles had his court painter van Dyck paint a now-famous triple portrait of the king that Bernini would work from to capture his subject's likeness.
|Van Dyck's triple portrait of Charles I is dated circa 1635-36.|
The painting was delivered to Rome in 1636. The marble bust was soon completed and was very well received on its arrival at the English court; Charles would pay the sculptor quite lavishly for the commission.The portrait was so admired that plans were made for the queen to be portrayed by Bernini as well. Toward the same purpose, van Dyck painted three views of Henrietta Maria, though on three separate canvases. As it turned out, the English Civil War intervened and the second bust was never begun.
|The Queen's portraits are dated 1638; the full-face view and the left-facing profile are in the Royal Collection.|
|The right-facing profile view is in the Memphis Brooks Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.|
The King's bust would have a fate as unfortunate as its subject's. Sold off after the fall of the monarchy, it was returned to the Royal Collection at the Restoration, only to be destroyed in a fire at Whitehall Palace in January of 1698. There were copies believed made of Bernini's original, but those still existing and thus attributed are of differing design and some appear to have been made sometime after the destruction of the original.
|One of the busts traditionally believed to be a copy after Bernini. Attributed to Jan Blommendael, circa 1700.|
|Another bust thought to be after Bernini. The sculptor is unknown, but it has been suggested that it is John Bushnell. Circa 1675.|