Charles II: Art and Power review – the original king of bling

By Laura Cumming

Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace
The importance of art to the Restoration is revealed in this tremendous show featuring some of Charles II's most treasured possessions

Charles II (1630-85), otherwise known as the Merry Monarch, was a gargantuan baby. At four months he already looked, his mother complained, like a one-year-old. From the age of 12 he took part in English civil war battles and was described as “a tall, black man” in parliamentary wanted posters. His appearance was anything but English, the dramatic height and darkness most probably inherited from Danish and Italian grandmothers. At 6ft 2in, he was almost a foot taller than his father, and he increased it with towering high heels.

Charles's appearance is instantly familiar from the many portraits in this show. The long, curling wig of dark hair, the black moustache, the heavy nose and sensuously curving lips, above all the great brown eyes, faintly saturnine; it is remarkable how precisely the paintings agree. It is a consolidated look, almost more than with any other British monarch, and is even there in a quick-fire sketch by the great miniaturist Samuel Cooper, made in chalk on brown paper as Charles listens to his friend and former tutor, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

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Source: Charles II: Art and Power review – the original king of bling