1655: Headless Horsemen

Anthony van Dyck - Charles I with M. de St Antoine (1633)

In the turmoil of the English Civil War (1642-1651), an engraving based on this portrait of King Charles I underwent a remarkable number of transformations. The original portrait was painted by Anthony van Dyck in 1633 (above). The French engraver Pierre Lombart then produced sevenpossibly eightversions of it during the tumultuous period in which the monarchy of England was toppled and then ultimately reinstated.

Charles was beheaded in 1649 after being put on trial by the revolutionary Roundheads; England’s monarchical system of government was then replaced with, first, the Commonwealth of England (1649–1653) and then the Protectorate (1653-1659) under which Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector until he died of natural causes in 1658. His position was assumed by his son Richard until the Royalists returned to power in 1660. Cromwell’s corpse was exhumed, hung in chains, and posthumously beheaded.

Pierre Lombart - Headless Horseman (1655)]  Pierre Lombart - Cromwell (1655-1670)  Pierre Lombart - Charles I (1655-1670)

For his first engraving (1655) (not shown), Lombart simply reproduced van Dyck’s portrait of the king but substituted the head of Cromwell, adding a battle in the background and a new inscription; he was paid twenty pounds (roughly $6,000 today). In 1658, after Cromwell had died, Lombart burnished out the head on the copper printing plate (above, left), and substituted the likeness of King Louis XIV of France; two versions of this print survive. Later, for the fifth version, Louis’s head was scraped out and Cromwell’s re-engraved (above, center). Still later, likely after Lombart’s death, the head of Charles I returned (above, right)—and then, in the final version, Cromwell’s was restored. The British Museum says that there may have been an earlier first state.

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1 Response to 1655: Headless Horsemen

  1. Pingback: 1643: O England Looke Upon this Monstrous Thing | corvusfugit.com

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