Bust of King Charles I (Bernini)

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The Bust of Charles I was a sculptural bust produced by the Italian artist Gianlorenzo Bernini which according to one historian, "set the visual conventions for centuries … [establishing itself as] the official portrait of secular absolutism.".[1] The sculpture was of the then king Charles I of England, who had commissioned the work himself, writing to Bernini that the artist's name was "exalted above those of all men of talent who have exercised your profession.".[2] Bernini did not travel to London to undertake the work; rather he made use of a painted triple portrait of Charles I (i.e. a view of Charles from three points) created especially by the Flemish artist Anthony Van Dyck for Bernini. Despite not meeting Charles I face-to-face, Bernini's bust was considered a success at the time, and the English king rewarded Bernini with jewellery worth over 4,000 Roman scudi (a figure over 60 times the average yearly salary of a worker in Rome).[3]

There had also been plans for Bernini to create a portrait of Charles' wife, Henrietta Maria, but the advent of the English Civil War quickly put an end to the project.

The bust of Charles I no longer exists; it was most likely destroyed in the Palace of Whitehall fire of 1698. Numerous copies of the image exist in other forms (e.g. engravings, bronze sculptures).[4]

For a while in 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a belief in England and elsewhere that Bernini had also created a bust of Oliver Cromwell, the victor over Charles I in the English Civil War.[5] However, the attribution was refuted in 1922.[6]


  1. ^ Mormando, Franco. Bernini: His Life and His Rome, p132
  2. ^ Mormando, p130
  3. ^ Mormando, p131
  4. ^ Wittkower, Rudolf. Bernini: The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque. London: Phaidon Press, 1997, p258
  5. ^ http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87646723?searchTerm=bernini&searchLimits=#pstart8377819
  6. ^ The Burlington Magazine - Volume 40 - Page 119