Bernini and Charles I (1)

I had a letter this morning asking me about the story that, when Bernini received the triple portrait of Charles I by Van Dyck as the model for the bust which the King had commissioned, he is said to have declared, ‘Never have I beheld features more unfortunate’. The question was: what is the source of this anecdote and is there any truth to it ?

It’s surprisingly hard to trace. The story is repeated by Horace Walpole in his Anecdotes of Painting as if it is already too well known to bear repeating. The earliest reference to it that I have so far found it is in James Welwood’s Memoirs of the most material transactions in England, for the last Hundred Years (London, 1718) in which he describes how Charles I ‘had something in the Lines and Features which Physiognomists account unfortunate: And it’s commonly reported, that his Picture being sent to Rome to have a Busto done by it; a famous Statuary, not knowing whose it was, told the Gentleman that brought it, He was sorry if it was the Face of any Relation of his; for it was one of the most Unfortunate he ever saw; and according to all the Rules of Art, the Person whose it was must die a violent Death‘ (p.68).

Does anyone know its origin ?


3 thoughts on “Bernini and Charles I (1)

  1. Thomas Ponsonby says:

    Regretfully I can offer no information BUT you have provided much MIRTH, thence smiles & a giggle, for which thanks.

  2. edward chaney says:

    ‘And I have been told, of the famous Architect and Statuary, the late Chevalier Bernini, who cut that rare ‘Bust of Charles the First at Rome in white Marble, from a Picture painted by Van Dyke (yet extant, and to be seen in one of His Majesty’s Apartments ) that he foretold something of funest and unhappy, which the Countenance of that Excellent Prince fore-boded.’ (John Evelyn, Numismata, 1695, p. 335). I think that ‘the Gentleman that brought it’ (i.e. brought the Van Dyck triple portrait of Charles I to Rome) must be the wealthy Thomas Baker (who took the opportunity to have Bernini do his own bust now in the V&A; some of this in Pope-Hennessy’s V&A sculpture catalogue, though the relevant entry is clearly by the excellent Ronald Lightbown who revised it for the Festschrift for H.W. Janson, though Lightbown is cautious about Baker being our man. Evelyn visited Baker’s ‘Forest House’ in Leyton in 1669 and may have chatted with Baker’s widow, Lady Norwich, about her late husband’s Italian adventures…

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