September 2018: Royal Paintings in Middle Temple Hall

For over 330 years, the three Stuart portraits of Charles I, Charles II and James Duke of York have looked down from the west wall of Hall on generations of Benchers at High Table below, and on generations of students and barristers mooting and attending Readings, dining and revelling in the great Elizabethan Hall that was already over a century old when the pictures were acquired.  This engraving depicts the scene at the end of the 17th century.

‘The Inside of Ye Middle Temple Hall’, engraving by William Emmett, c1700 (MT.19/ILL/D2/44)

The striking central painting shows King Charles I in armour astride his horse and accompanied by M. de St Antoine, his riding master.  This composition was produced by the fashionable Flemish artist, Anthony van Dyck, for the king in 1633, shortly after his appointment as Principal Painter and today that original painting is in the Royal Collection. It was a masterpiece of both art and propaganda, presenting an image of the king in regal and serene control at a time when in fact political unrest was increasing and the kingdom was heading towards civil war. Van Dyck painted a copy of it a couple of years later for the Earl of Caernarvon for Highclere Castle (familiar to viewers of Downton Abbey) and another version may be seen in the National Gallery.

Equestrian portrait of King Charles I, after Van Dyck

The Middle Temple painting is thought to be a high quality copy, possibly by Sir Peter Lely, who was a great admirer of van Dyck and is known to have copied his works.  The receipt for this painting (£30 plus £10 for the frame) and for the portrait of Charles I’s younger son, James, Duke of York, later King James II (£10 plus £8 for the frame) dated 1684, is held in the Archive.  Roger North, an executor of Lely’s will on his death in 1680 and guardian of his two illegitimate children, was Treasurer of the Inn in 1683-4, and would have been aware of the contents of Lely’s collection, dispersed after his death for the then immense sum of £26,000.  The Inn purchased these two paintings from the dealer Frederick Sonnius.

Receipt for the purchase of portraits of King Charles I and James, Duke of York, 1684 (MT.2/TRB/42)

The Duke of York was a Royal Bencher of the Inner Temple and had personally helped fight the Great Fire of London that was finally halted on the boundary of Inner and Middle Temple.  His portrait underwent conservation at the Hamilton-Kerr Institute, Cambridge, in 2015-16 and was subsequently on loan to Inner Temple to hang in their Hall over their commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire.