David von Krafft, Charles XII of Sweden

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All rights reserved)


Country House
Doddington Hall
Charles XII of Sweden
? c.1718–24
The Great Hall
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 226 cm, Overall width: 149 cm
David von Krafft (1655-1724)
Catalogue Number
  • Lettered bottom left ‘CHARLES XIITH OF SWEDEN’


Charles XII (1682–1718) was king of Sweden from 1697 to 1718. Having acceded to the throne as a teenager, Charles prided himself on his military prowess, fortitude and temperance, commanding the Swedish army during the war against the triple alliance of Denmark–Norway, Saxony–Poland–Lithuania and Russia in the so-called Great Northern War. Although Charles II won several victories, Sweden was ultimately defeated and Charles was killed during the siege of the fortress at Frederiksten in November 1718. Following his death, Charles came to be regarded across Europe as the embodiment of the virtuous warrior king, attracting the attention of Voltaire, who published his biography, and Samuel Johnson, who featured him in his poem ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’. The portrait was formerly at Seaton Delaval, where it was recorded in 1745 (Cole, 1897). It was therefore acquired probably by Captain Francis Blake Delaval, who was a contemporary of Charles XII, and quite possibly counted among his admirers.

David von Krafft (1655–1724) was born in Hamburg. After he was orphaned he trained as an artist with his uncle, David Klöcker, portraitist at the Swedish royal court, whom he succeeded as court painter following his uncle’s death in 1698. Krafft’s principal activity as court painter was to produce images of the king, Charles XII. In the present portrait Charles XII is shown wearing his distinctive campaign uniform, in the background possibly the fortress of Fredericksten where he met his heroic death. Indeed, if Frederiksten is featured here, it suggests that the portrait is posthumous, painted possibly sometime between 1718 and Krafft’s own death in 1724. The composition exists in a number of versions with compositional variations. A three-quarter-length version, formerly in the collection of the British Museum, is now in the Government Art Collection.1

by Martin Postle


  1. GAC 27.


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