The present lot has been accepted by Susan Barnes as the modello for the horse in Van Dyck's Equestrian Portrait of the Emperor Charles V in the Uffizi; it will be included by her in the Italian section of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of Van Dyck which she has compiled in collaboration with Sir Oliver Millar, Nora de Poorter and Professor Horst Vey. Her view has been verbally endorsed by Sir Oliver Millar. The artist has made considerable use of and allowance for the grey preparation when executing this rapid study.The status of the landscape should remain in question.
The equestrian portrait, which is first recorded in the 1704 inventory of Prince Ferdinando de' Medici, has been dated to circa 1623 by Larsen (Paintings of Anthony van Dyck, Freren, 1998, 1, p. 219, fig. 167, II, p. 428, no. A54). He regards it as a studio production; although loosely painted, it would appear to be autograph. But the condition is problematic and the picture is known to have required restoration already in 1804.
This modello, which is approximately identical in size with the relevant section of the completed picture (which measures 191 by 123 cm.), includes numerous telling details omitted from that work: in for example the head, the treatment of the legs, and the braid binding the mane. While the artist necessarily had to turn to earlier portraits for his likeness of the Emperor - his recourse to Titian's portrait of Charles V at the Battle of Mühlberg (Madrid, Prado) is obvious - he clearly studied the horse from nature. This is the largest in size of his early oil sketches of horses and horsemen, of which the most celebrated is at Christ Church, Oxford.
It is not surprising that such a picture entered the collection of the Earls of Pembroke at Wilton, always celebrated for its holdings of Van Dycks. How it left Wilton has not been securely established, but the manuscript catalogue of the Highnam pictures compiled by or for Thomas Gambier-Parry, suggests that it was sold during the minority of the 'late Lord Pembroke', i.e. Robert Sidney, 12th Earl of Pembroke (1781-1862): on a visit to Highnam in 1863, Lady Herbert, presumably Elizabeth, widow of Sidney, 1st Lord Herbert of Lea, 'recognised the picture at once'. The catalogue states that Gambier-Parry bought the pictures just before Sir Charles Eastlake had time to secure it for the National Gallery. He had acquired Highnam Court, near Gloucester, in 1838 and subsequently rebuilt both the house and, yet more energetically, the church. For the former he assembled one of the most rewarding of all mid-nineteenth-century collections. This was particularly strong in Italian renaissance pictures - including panels by Daddi, Lorenzo Monaco, Fra Angelico and Albertinelli, among many others - and allied works of art, and survives substantially intact at the Courtauld Institute of Art. The Van Dyck was, it proves, the outstanding northern post-renaissance picture in the collection.