Found: A Rubens Portrait of George Villiers, Lover of King James I

Photo via the BBC. Dude is handsome.
Photo via the BBC. Dude is handsome.

A long-lost Peter Paul Rubens painting has surfaced in Scotland. It’s a portrait of George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham—and often thought to have been in romantic relationship with King James I, who referred to Villiers as “husband.”


Honestly, Great Britain, what else have you got tucked away over there? Are you sure you’ve double checked for the Holy Grail?

According to the Guardian, it was spotted—tucked out of the way at a grand Scottish estate, Pollok House—by Dr. Bendor Grosvenor of the BBC program Britain’s Lost Masterpieces and will appear on an upcoming episode. The piece was a study for a larger piece that was later lost, but it is an original Rubens. It’s a particularly interesting piece of history because of the very, very close relationship between George Villiers and King James I. Atlas Obscura explains:

James I lavished attention and care on him, and called him “Steenie” after St. Stephen, who was said to have had the face of an angel. However, whether Villiers and James I were lovers in the modern sense of the word has been a source of some contention. In their letters, James I states how he wept so profusely at their parting, “that I can scarcely see to write.” But scholars have argued that such sentiments are not atypical of male friendship in the 17th and 18th centuries. The rumors flared up upon the 2008 discovery of a secret passage in one of the king’s homes linking their bedchambers.

Grosvenor’s finds have appeared on this blog twice before, and he appears unable to leave his house without tripping over a massively undervalued piece of art. He recounted:

“There was this painting further up by the fireplace and it sounds rather silly to say it, but it was a bit of a eureka moment and I thought: ‘My god, that looks like a Rubens.’ This picture just seemed to shine out.”

He returned the next day with a pair of binoculars and the following day with a ladder. “It wasn’t until we peeled it all back that we could be really sure. It’s one thing for an optimist like me to have a hunch, but quite another to prove it,” Grosvenor said.

Buddy, at this point, you’re starting to sound a little falsely modest!

Senior Editor at Jezebel, specializing in books, royals, romance novels, houses, history, and the stories we tell about domesticity and femininity. Resident Windsor expert.



Also contemplating what it’s like to have a house in which, to study a painting, you need binoculars and a ladder...