Frederick V, King of Bohemia (1596-1632)

  • About the work
    Country: Czech Republic
    City: Prague
    Place: British Embassy
    Gerrit van Honthorst’s portrait of Frederick V, King of Bohemia, is one of a pair of companion portraits of the King and his consort, Elizabeth. Exiled in The Hague, after reigning in Bohemia from 1619–1620, the couple commissioned several portraits from the artist in the early 1630s. The brevity of their time in Prague earned them the titles of ‘Winter King and Queen’ their expulsion sparking the Thirty Years’ War across central Europe.
    In both portraits the couple’s fashionable black courtly attire, contrast dramatically against a sumptuous red curtain and balustrade. The presence of the royal insignia in both portraits corresponds to the claim to the crown of Bohemia, which Frederick V never renounced throughout his long years of exile. 

    Frederick V was the Calvinist grandson of William the Silent, Prince of Orange. In 1613 he married Elizabeth, only daughter of James I and VI of England and Scotland and his wife Anne of Denmark. Frederick accepted the Bohemian crown in September 1619 and both he and Elizabeth were crowned in the Wenceslaus Chapel of St Vitus Cathedral, Prague, in November 1619. His coronation threatened the Hapsburg succession to the Holy Roman Empire, bringing him in confrontation with the Catholic German states. Shortly after his defeat by the imperial troops of the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand II in November 1620, he fled to his Orange relatives in The Hague with his wife and family. In 1714, George I, the grandson of Frederick and Elizabeth, would become the first Hanoverian king of England.

    Honthorst’s portraits of Frederick and Elizabeth were at Mote Park, near Maidstone, the seat of the Lords Romney, by 1795. That year, the author of ‘Historical Genealogy of the Royal House of Stuarts’ referred to them there, attributing the works to Cornelius Johnson and commenting: ‘his person is good; she, though not handsome, is far more so than either of her parents: their misfortunes seem depicted in their countenances.’
  • About the artist
    Dutch painter Gerrit van Honthorst trained under Abraham Bloemaert in Utrecht and was in Rome from c.1610-12. Here, Honthorst became particularly influenced by the work of Caravaggio and of his follower Manfredi. Honthorst also worked for Caravaggio’s former patron, the Marchese Giustiniani. After leaving Rome in 1620, he settled in Utrecht until 1628. He then made a brief visit to London, where he worked as a royal portraitist, painting an intimate portrait of Charles I (1628). From 1637 to 1652 Honthorst lived in a large mansion in The Hague, where his students included Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia and her daughters. He painted several of Elizabeth’s family members. Honthorst occasionally produced work with his brother, Willem (1594-1666).
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  • Details
    Frederick V, King of Bohemia (1596-1632)
    Oil on canvas
    height: 202.00 cm, width: 143.50 cm
    Purchased from Christie's, 9 February 1951
    BASE OF BALUSTRADE (barely legible): ELECTOR PALATINE, KING OF BOHEMIA BR (Later hand): G. Honthorst BL (Later hand): Frederick V. / King of Bohemia / B.1596 D.1632.
    Collection of Charles Marsham, Baron Romney (1744-1811; later 1st Earl of Romney) at Mote House (The Mote) in Kent by 1795; by descent to Charles Marsham, 4th Earl of Romney (1841-1905); by whom sold through Christie’s, London, on 9 June 1888 (Lot 357), bought in; collection of Romney; from whom purchased as part of the Mote Estate by Marcus Samuel (1853-1927; later 1st Viscount Bearsted) in 1895; by whom sold through Christie’s, London, 13 December 1929 (Lot 77, with GAC 1264); from which sale purchased by Gooden & Fox, London, for £210; collection of Sir Edward Oswald Every (c.1887-c.1950) of Egginton Hall, Derby, and Lennox Gardens, Chelsea; by whose executors sold through Christie’s, London, on 9 February 1951 (Lot 107; with GAC 1264); from which sale purchased by ‘Norway’, on behalf of the Ministry of Works
    GAC number