SUPPORT OUR JOURNALISM: Please consider donating to keep our website running and free for all - thank you!

Royal News

The butterfly that hovers as a symbol of change in the historic portrait of Charles III

The King has unveiled a brand new portrait of himself and it’s filled with symbolism as well as history.

Charles III revealed the painting at Buckingham Palace alongside the artist, Jonathan Yeo. Queen Camilla was also present for the unveiling.

Place in the history books

It’s the first portrait of The King to be completed since his Coronation, giving it a place in the history books. And its role in the story of Charles III is underlined by the symbolism chosen by Jonathan Yeo for the portrait.

The portrait of King Charles III is over eight feet tall

The painting was commissioned in 2020 ahead of an important anniversary for Charles, then Prince of Wales. In 2022, he marked 50 years as a member of The Drapers’ Company and the portrait was to commemorate that event.

Symbolism in the portrait of The King

However, in the time it was being completed, the longest serving heir in British history succeeded to the throne on the death of his mother, Elizabeth II, who had reigned for just over 70 years.

A close look at the butterfly which symbolises Charles III’s transformation from Prince to King in a new portrait by Jonathan Yeo

Jonathan Yeo added a Monarch butterfly to the portrait to denote that transformation. It hovers over King Charles III’s shoulder, signifying his change from Prince to Monarch as the painting was completed. And the idea for the symbolic Monarch butterfly came from the new Monarch himself.

The artist said King Charles wanted to add something that told a story as well as reflecting his love for the environment and nature.

The changing role of Charles III

Jonathan Yeo also said of the portrait ‘’ When I started this project, His Majesty The King was still His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, and much like the butterfly I’ve painted hovering over his shoulder, this portrait has evolved as the subject’s role in our public life has transformed.’’

He added ‘’ my aim was also to make reference to the traditions of Royal portraiture but in a way that reflects a 21st Century Monarchy and, above all else, to communicate the subject’s deep humanity. I’m unimaginably grateful for the opportunity to capture such an extraordinary and unique person, especially at the historic moment of becoming King.”

King’s personal links to painting

There is further symbolism in the painting as Charles was still Prince of Wales when he first sat for the portrait and chose to be shown in it in the uniform of the Welsh Guards.

This is the first portrait of Charles III since his Coronation (Portrait by Jonathan Yeo)

However, The King will be aware of another aspect of the Monarch butterfly’s story. In recent years, numbers have declined around the world, with concerns about the species long term viability, The Monarch whose transformation in royal life is show by the creature will be aware of the issues it faces – in his time as heir, he became a leading voice on environmental concerns.

The portrait, which is over eight feet tall and six feet wide, will hang at Draper’s Hall in London and The Master of The Drapers’ Company, Tom Harris and Past Master, William Charnley, were present for the unveiling.

"; n.innerHTML = "window._taboola = window._taboola || [];_taboola.push({mode:'thumbnails-a', container:'taboola-below-article-thumbnails', placement:'Below Article Thumbnails', target_type: 'mix'});"; insertAfter(t, e); insertAfter(n, t) }injectWidgetByMarker('tbmarker');

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.