English School, circa 17th century. Oil on panel portrait of Henry IV. Inscribed “H.R. IIII” along the upper left. There is a Minneapolis Institute of Arts label attached to the verso, which is inscribed L22-430, meaning the painting was loaned to the MIA in 1922. A partial label attached to the verso reads “Londo” and the letter “G.” “T. B. Walker” is inscribed on the verso of the frame in pencil.
Provenance: T.B. Walker Collection; private collection, Minnesota.
Henry IV of England (1366-1413) was the first king in the Lancastrian line, which ruled England between 1399 and 1471, with a gap from 1461-1470 owing to the Wars of the Roses. His father, John of Gaunt, was the Earl of Lancaster and a major political figure during the early parts of Henry’s cousin Richard II’s reign. Henry entered politics in 1386 as part of the lords appellant, a group in opposition to the crown. Tensions quickly heated up, with conflicts resolved only by John of Gaunt’s timely return from a diplomatic expedition to Spain. At this point, Henry left England to go on Crusade to Central Europe for a few years. Upon his return to England, he immediately began stirring up political conflict, which eventually led to his exile in 1398. Later that year, John of Gaunt died. Richard immediately seized all of his–and, therefore, Henry’s–lands. Henry took this as an opportunity to invade England and usurp the throne, and was crowned king in 1399.
He spent the early years of his reign pushing back uprisings of the Welsh, the French, and his own countrymen. Several of these wars dragged for years, particularly the now-legendary revolt led by the Welsh prince Owain Glyndŵr (ca. 1354-ca. 1416), who gained control of nearly the entirety of Wales before he was beaten back by Henry’s son Henry (1386-1422) in the first decade of the 15th century. King Henry grew increasingly incapacitated by illness, likely syphilis, in the later years of his reign, leading to further intrigue in government as various people competed for power and favor. He died in 1413 and was succeeded by his son Henry, who became Henry V of England.
Despite the constant action and intrigue of Henry IV’s reign, which was even dramatized by Shakespeare, very few visual records of the man himself survive. The only image surviving from the king’s lifetime is his effigy from his grave in Canterbury. The image here, which is the standard depiction of Henry IV, is not actually based on Henry, but is instead based on a portrait of Charles VI of France, a contemporary of Henry’s. This portrait type was likely developed around the 1580s in response to the growing popularity of portrait halls. These halls were frequently lined with portraits of kings and queens of England as a way of emphasizing loyalty to the crown. The lack of a portrait of Henry created a gap in these halls, which led to the creation of this image, based on the engraving of Charles VI in the 1567 book “Recueil des effigies des roys de France avec un brief sommaire des genealogies faits et gestes d’iceux.” Some alterations were made to the portrait: the face was altered to closer resemble that of the effigy, and a red rose, the symbol of the Lancastrian kings, was placed in Henry’s hand.
This specific painting likely dates from the 17th century. Its entire history is not known, but once in the United States, it spent time in the collection of Thomas Barlow Walker (1840-1928), an important Minnesota lumberman with a passion for art collecting. Walker’s collection formed the basis for what became the Walker Art Center. This painting is an excellent and unique example of the standard portrait type for Henry IV due to the level of precise detail, and depicts the king in semi-profile to the left, wearing a burgundy tunic with a fur trim and collar. His right arm, which is armored, bears a scepter topped with a fleur de lis, and his left hand is holding a Lancastrian red rose. Around his neck is a gold necklace with a medallion of a lion rampant. The inscription to the left of his head reads H.R. (Henricus Rex) IIII. Unique among portraits of this type, instead of a plain dark background, this painting has scrolling designs on brown.
Dimensions: Sight; height: 33 in x width: 22 in. Framed; height: 44 in x width: 33 1/2 in.
Condition: Several vertical cracks to the panel, areas of visible inpainting under UV to the figure’s face, areas in the background, and some along the body. Wooden supports along the verso, wear to the frame.
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