Tuesday, 20 October 2009

First five things I thought on looking at this portrait in the National Gallery, which basically mean I don't deserve to go there.

* Wow. That horse has a really tiny head.
* Charles I and his horse have the same hair.
* If everyone had a small framed sign saying who they were hung up beside them wherever they went, would that be useful or irritating? It would certainly be good at parties.
* Did Charles pick the horse because it had his hair, or did he get the horse first, and then grow his hair out in order to copy his horse's signature look? Or hasn't he even noticed? I bet the rest of the court has. Van Dyke definitely has.
* Well. I'm hungry.


Zaza said...

To discuss your observations in order
- I agree the horse has a tiny head... OR does it have a huge body?

- Maybe van Dyck could only paint one hairstyle

- Maybe Charles 1st was elusive and no-one knew what he looked like. Or everyone looked alike in 1637-8 so he needed an Post Medieval ID card hung on the nearest stationary object wherever he went. Alternatively the portrait acually looked nothing like him (he was painted on horseback to disguise the fact that he was really short - an early example of airbrushing?).

- I think van dyck made the horse up from what he had to hand, i.e. Chrles' wig and old camel hair blanket and with no reference to a live horse, hence the head issue.

At least Van Dyck could be bothered to finish the background of the painting... unlike in Stubb's painting of Whistlejacket. I went on a guided tour of the the National Gallery where I saw both paintings and similarly had a list of thoughts about "Whistlejacket"
- Did Stubbs run out of paint?
- OR did he run out of money, time or inspiration?
- Why has such a large horse got such a tiny shadow?
- AND... how did he get the horse to stand in that position for so long?

Robert Hudson said...

Which one is Charles?

riffle said...

I generally drop by here for library management tips and insight into Housman (excellent AEH couplets, by the way!), but today I am aghast to see this site making light of regicide.

Charles I and references to head? Hair? Signs hung (about the neck, I'm sure). Hunger? (Banqueting House reference, no doubt).

I'm as anti-monarchical as most Americans but, please, think of Elizabeth II's feelings when you toss these things around.

As for the painting, Charles was short of stature (US slang: "Sawed-off"), and van Dyck had to resort to all kinds of tricks to hide that fact--I presume the misshapen horse may have been an artifact of those efforts.

simon kane said...

I'd forgotten how bloody awful that painting is. Oh, now, John, if you're ever swinging round the Tate-as-was I'd be very interested in your opinion of Turner's early work "War, the exile and the rock limpet".

Marie said...

I once walked around an entire Van Dyck exhibition noticing how everyone he painted looked exactly like their dogs. I genuinely think he does it on purpose in a subversive piss-taking exercise.

James Lark said...

Not just the hair. If you look at the colour scheme, it becomes clear that Charles has dressed to approximate the horse's colouring, but in reverse! Like he's some kind of black and white minstrel version of the horse.

That's what I see, anyway, but I've just eaten so it's possibly the observation of a man who doesn't hunger. Or a man who's had half a bottle of red.

Polly said...

Well - I'm just bloody glad someone else has noticed what a REALLY TINY head that horse has got! I never liked to mention it before in case someone thought I was some numbnut who didn't 'understand' art. Thank God for you and me.

Anonymous said...

very tiny head :-)

Illyrian History

Anonymous said...

What about his right hand? It looks like he's operating a gear-shift on the horse's neck. I'm surprised you didn't comment on this.

Perhaps the king's riding a mechanical horse, which would account for the unrealistic size of its head.

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