This marble bust is derived from Charles I’s officially approved sculpted image by French sculptor Hubert Le Sueur. Charles is shown in a suit of armour, decorated with lion-mask pauldrons covering the shoulder area and a ‘Medusa’ type mask.
In 1629 Richard Weston, Lord Treasurer, commissioned an equestrian portrait from Le Sueur of Charles I, which was erected on a high pedestal at Charing Cross. The sculpture was buried during the Commonwealth period, re-erected in 1674 and now stands on a roundabout in front of Nelson’s column, Trafalgar Square.
Le Sueur’s first bust of Charles was made in 1631 (Victoria and Albert Museum). It was widely reproduced, mainly in bronze, and busts were distributed by Charles or his courtiers to the Bodleian Library, Oxford; St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith; and the Market Cross, Chichester. The head used for the bust was taken from the equestrian sculpture and Le Sueur also reused it for full-length sculptures of the king. However, almost all statues of Charles I erected during his reign were destroyed during the 1650s.
This may be one of several marble busts made after Le Sueur during the second quarter of the 18th century, when images of the king, regarded by some as a martyr, were popular.
Hubert Le Sueur was born in Paris; the son of a master armourer. He may have studied under Giambologna in Florence. In 1614 he was appointed Sculptor in Ordinary to Louis XIII. Early in his career he concentrated on statuettes, including ‘Louis XIII on horseback’. By 1623 he had lost his wife, both his parents and a sister. Le Sueur accepted an invitation to travel with Louis XIII’s sister, Henrietta Maria, to England to work in the court of her new husband, Charles I. By 1626 Le Sueur was living near Drury Lane. Two years later he received the first of many commissions for tombs. Le Sueur returned to Paris at the outbreak of civil war in England. In France he worked as a foundryman, casting classical sculptures and a bust by Jean Warin.
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