Attributed to Constantino de’ Servi
(c. 1554 – 1622)
Henry Fredrick Stuart, Prince of Wales (1594 – 1612)
Painted Drawn c. 1611
Pencil on paper, heightened with white chalk: 6 ½ x 12 1/8 in. (16.3 x 13.2 cm.)
Private collection, France, until 2016.
This wonderfully intimate, and very sensitive portrayal of Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales, the ‘lost king’, was only recently discovered. Clearly drawn from life, and depicting him when a young man of seventeen or eighteen years old, it is likely to be one of the very last portraits that the heir to the British throne would have sat to in his lifetime.
The prince’s iconography is somewhat limited, given his short life, and the finest portraits that have survived were done by the miniaturist Isaac Oliver, the most famous of which is a large-scale work from c.1610 – 1612 (The Royal Collection, Windsor). The prince’s image was more widely disseminated through the portraits in oil done by Robert Peake and his studio from 1603 onwards when Peake was employed in the royal household as his principal ‘Picturemaker’. Our drawing has an informal, spontaneous quality quite different from the official images of the prince. Sketched at speed, and heightened with white chalk, it is executed with breath-taking delicacy and observation. The artist has conveyed with ease the prince’s characteristic spikey hair and has effortlessly captured his rather arch and confident expression, achieved with a raised eyebrow – further emphasised by highlights above. There is the merest suggestion of the prince’s ruff and doublet; this drawing concentrates on the prince’s face in all its immediacy.
Clearly by the hand of a highly skilled draughtsman, the drawing is so accomplished it has previously been attributed to an Italian hand of the early Baroque – Ottavio Leoni (1578 – 1630). However, a more tantalising and indeed compelling attribution has been kindly suggested by Sir Roy Strong. Strong first wrote about the Florentine architect, artist and polymath, Constantino de’ Servi (c. 1554 – 1622) in his book Henry Prince of Wales and England’s Lost Renaissance in 1986. He observed that ‘of all the figures in the history of the arts in early Stuart England whose importance needs to be re-examined, the Florentine… must rank as potentially the most important’.
Although de’ Servi today is little known, and his oeuvre is sadly unaccountable, he was extremely successful and highly regarded in his lifetime. His early artistic experience was developed in the grandducal Medici court of Florence in the 1570s. He trained initially as a painter under the principe dello studiolo, Santi di Tito (1536 – 1603), whose naturalistic style was also influenced by the likes of Agnolo Bronzino and Andrea del Sarto. We can only assume that de’ Servi must himself have been a talented draftsman. He spent some years as an itinerant artist, working in the service of the Cardinal of Austria in Innsbruck and Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. Most pivotally, he spent a period in the service of the French King, Henri IV, as ‘ingenieur du roi’. In September 1610, Prince Henry Frederick applied to Henri IV to release to his service the Italian artist brothers Tommasso and Alessandro Francini as part of his plan to reform visual arts in England at that time. However, due to other commitments to the French crown, rather than the Francinis, de’ Servi was instead made available to the prince, travelling to England in 1611.
De Servi was firstly met by Queen Ann at Greenwich in the summer of 1611, who according to Ottaviano Lotti ‘takes great pleasure in the portraits from life he has painted for her’. Meanwhile the Prince ordered him to ‘make designs for constructing fountains, summer houses, galleries and other things’, but perhaps most tantalisingly, he ‘greatly pleased His Highness, of whom he is now executing a life-sized portrait and he is so disposed towards him that he comes to see him in his lodging.’ Neither the portraits painted for Queen Ann, nor the life-sized portrait of Prince Henry by de’ Servi are known today, but it is a convincing theory that the present drawing may well be a preparatory sketch. Certainly the dating of the drawing based on the likely age of the sitter is compatible with the timing of the artist’s visit. De’ Servi went on to become pivotal in the re-designing of Richmond Palace, and in many ways usurped Inigo Jones and Salamon de Caus in the prince’s favour, even preparing a series of court masques to celebrate the marriage of the prince’s sister Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine.
The untimely death of the prince in 1612 must have left de’ Servi in a precarious position. When at last the wedding of Elizabeth to the Winter King took place in February 1613, de’ Servi was responsible for the orchestration of a naval battle on the Thames. Transferring to the house of the prince’s great favourite, James, Lord Hay, later Viscount Doncaster, he continued to paint portraits, including one of Prince Charles and another, commissioned by the king, of his sister Elizabeth (both lost). However, he was critical of the lack of royal funding of the arts in the wake of the prince’s death and his last known British project was to act as designer for the court masque by Thomas Campion to mark the marriage of the notorious Frances Howard to Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset at the end of 1613. The masque was reputedly a disaster, with machinery failing to work, and generally it was de’ Servi who was blamed. The next couple of years he very likely sought work abroad, and by 8 February 1615 de’ Servi was in The Hague in the service of Prince Henry’s friend, Maurice of Nassau and the States of Holland.
Henry Frederick was born in Stirling Castle, Scotland on 19 February 1594, and was nine years old when his father James VI of Scotland succeeded to the throne of England as James I in 1603. Upon the accession, Henry was regarded as the long-awaited Protestant prince of the English Renaissance. A distinct court culture rapidly developed around him, projecting a chivalric yet erudite image to which Henry was willing to conform. By 1606, at the age of twelve, he made a brilliant first public appearance on the occasion of the visit of his uncle, Christian IV, King of Denmark. Profoundly and passionately interested in the arts, he formed the first royal collection in this country, and was the first to bring Renaissance bronzes into England including works by Giambologna. Had he lived, it is likely his court would have culturally been one of the most spectacular in Europe.
Tragically however, in 1612 aged but eighteen, he died of typhoid fever. Such was the general and widespread grief at this untimely death of the heir to the throne that the funeral procession was made up of two thousand mourners, and the funeral – which was a cultural event in itself – was attended by many of the great and the good in Europe. In a long letter of eulogy written by Sir John Holles following the prince’s death, his virtues of character, as well as sporting and martial accomplishments, were extolled: ‘...in all things he affected regularity in his chapel, chamber, and household, was seldom angry, never gave foul word nor oath in his life...This excellently composed inside was accompanied with as well a built outside, an able, graceful body never wearied with labour, eminent in all princely exercises on horseback and on foot...’ The loss of the heir to the Stuart throne was felt so greatly by the family, and indeed the country at large, that four years were to pass before his younger brother Charles was created the new Prince of Wales, a ceremony which his mother and Queen, Anne of Denmark, could not bring herself to attend.
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