Charles I, King and Collector. Majestic show at the Royal Academy

Art and auctions, Exhibitions, Paintings and Sculpture — By on January 24, 2018 at 10:05 PM

Crowning glory for Royal Academy.

Charles I, King and Collector. Majestic show at the Royal Academy

By James Brewer

At this sumptuous banquet of superlative painting and sculpture at the Royal Academy of Arts, there are two eminent “hosts” from four centuries ago. One is the titular King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland, and the other, who deserves equal billing, is his consort Henrietta Maria de Bourbon.

The ultimately ill-fated Charles put up the money, or his subjects’ money, to amass an unparalleled collection, becoming one of the greatest connoisseurs of all time. Queen Henrietta Maria, it has been recognised belatedly, was greatly influential in shaping the collection.

Charles and Henrietta Maria.

She was just as much a lover of great art as her husband, who was 10 years her senior. Like him, she desired to surround herself with exquisite pictures. Even when she went into exile in 1644 she took with her what paintings she could.

She sat several times for portraits by Charles’s favourite painter, Anthony van Dyck, who must have admired her intellectual qualities. In family groups she looks calm and benignly authoritative, and in a 1638 half- length solo portrait in oil she is perceived as intelligent and beautiful.

Her strong interest in the arts was cultivated while growing up in the French court, as the daughter of Henri IV and Marie de’ Medici. Charles’s passion for the arts was at least in part a manifestation of pride in his power, showing off to his European rivals.

Like most autocrats (he dissolved parliament for 10 years in 1629 in favour of ‘personal rule’ and tried to arrest five MPs in 1642, sparking the civil war) since, he sought to create monuments to himself, in this instance in marble and on the canvas. Henrietta Maria too wanted to see herself reflected in public works – she longed for a bust of herself comparable with the one made of her husband sanctioned by Pope Urban VIII from the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and had her portrait painted for the purpose although it was never sent to Rome – but her tastes, though often grand, appear to have been more grounded. The bust of the king was destroyed in a fire at Whitehall Palace in 1698, but a later replica greets visitors as they enter the Royal Academy exhibition.

Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson. By Anthony van Dyck.

She saw Somerset House (then known as Denmark House, after Charles’s mother Anne of Denmark), and Queen’s House, Greenwich, completed in 1636, as repositories for the royal imprimatur. She had Orazio Gentileschi paint a central ceiling panel in the Great Hall at the Queen’s House as an allegory of Peace reigning over the Arts; Gentileschi’s other paintings included Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (in the present Royal Collection) and the Finding of Moses (in a private collection). The Queen’s House is now part of the National Maritime Museum.

Henrietta Maria kept busy commissioning refined works from Guido Reni (1575-1642) among others, but some never reached their destination because of the political upheaval in England.

Charles was executed in 1649 and a few months later most of his collection was put up for sale and dispersed around Europe. Buyers could pick up a fine painting for as little as £6, admittedly a more impressive sum than it sounds today, and one of the top-selling compositions of van Dyck went for £200.

Although many works were brought back by Charles II during the Restoration, others remained overseas in collections such as the those of the Musée du Louvre, Paris, and the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Charles I: King and Collector, presented by the Royal Academy in partnership with Royal Collection Trust, reunites 140 of the works which were highlights of the extraordinary collection. The academy says it is an “unprecedented opportunity to experience the collection that changed the appreciation of art in England. “

Triumph of Caesar: The Vase Bearers. By Andrea Mantegna.

During his reign, Charles I (who lived from 1600-1649) acquired and commissioned masterpieces by van Dyck, Rubens, Holbein, Titian and Mantegna, to mention a few.

There is at least one that got away – the picture Christ, Salvator Mundi, attributed to Leonard da Vinci and that sold recently for a record $450m at auction in New York, is reported to have been in the royal collection. After some adventures it came into the hands of a wealthy Russian, and its new owner is a Middle East interest.

In 1623, the then Charles, Prince of Wales, visited Madrid when it was suggested he marry a Habsburg princess.  Marriage negotiations came to nothing, but he was intrigued by the Habsburg art collection and he returned to England with paintings by Titian and Veronese.

Intent on creating his own collection, he splashed out in buying from Duke Vincenzo II of Mantua the esteemed Gonzaga collection, which had been accumulated by the Dukes of Mantua.

The Supper at Emmaus. By Titian.

Among other assets, this added to Charles’s collection of Roman antiquities, bringing in a marble statue of Aphrodite, also known as the Crouching Venus, dating from the 2ndcentury AD. It is a Roman version of a Hellenistic original from 200 BC.  Aphrodite is shown crouching, as though surprised by the arrival of unexpected spectators of her bathing in the nude.

Van Dyck was appointed ‘principalle Paynter in Ordenarie to their Majesties’ in 1632. Charles amassed an enviable store of treasures in collaboration and in competition with connoisseurs close to the Stuart court, namely Thomas Howard Earl of Arundel (1586-1646), and George Villiers Duke of Buckingham (1592-1628).

By 1649, this comprised 1,500 paintings and 500 sculptures; an inventory compiled by Abraham van der Doort (c1580-1640), first Surveyor of The King’s Pictures, detailed the near-priceless items.

Anne Cresacre. By Hans Holbein the Younger.

The show, spaciously and judiciously displayed over 10 galleries, includes more than 90 works lent by the Queen from the Royal Collection. Other lenders include the National Gallery, London, the Louvre and the Prado.

Congratulations are due to the curators Per Rumberg of the Royal Academy and Desmond Shawe-Taylor, surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures since 2005, and their teams for their scholarship, for securing the loans, and for the regal ‘hang’ they have achieved.

The hang skilfully encompasses the monumental works, without compromising the attractions of the miniatures. Among the former are van Dyck’s portraits of the king and his family, his first major commission upon his arrival in England, in particular Charles and Henrietta Maria with Prince Charles and Princess Mary (The Greate Peece) of 1632 from the Royal Collection, and his two equestrian portraits, Charles I on Horseback with M de St Antoine of 1633, from the Royal Collection, and Charles I on Horseback, 1637-38 from the National Gallery. They are shown together with van Dyck’s Le Roi à la chasse of around 1635 from the Louvre. These return to England for the first time since the 17thcentury.

Aphrodite (The Crouching Venus).

Charles patronised some of the most important artists of his day, and the exhibition includes Minerva Protects Pax from Mars by Peter Paul Rubens, 1629-30 (the National Gallery) and his Landscape with Saint George and the Dragon, 1630-5 (Royal Collection). Here too is van Dyck’s spectacular Cupid and Psyche, 1639-40 (Royal Collection).

The exhibition presents important Renaissance paintings, including Andrea Mantegna’s titanic series, The Triumph of Caesar, c 1484-92 (Royal Collection), to which a whole gallery is dedicated, and Titian’s Supper at Emmaus, c 1530 (the Louvre), and Charles V with a Dog, 1533 (Prado). Other Renaissance artists here are Antonio Allegri da Correggio, Agnolo Bronzino, Jacopo Bassano, Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese; and from northern Europe Albrecht Dürer, Jan Gossaert, Hans Holbein the Younger and Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Reflecting pride in home-grown weaving skills are the celebrated Mortlake tapestries of Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles, c 1631-40 (Mobilier National, Paris), said by some to be the most spectacular set of tapestries produced in England. There are precious works formerly kept in the Cabinet at Whitehall Palace, including paintings, statuettes, miniatures and drawings.

Cupid and Psyche. By Anthony van Dyck.

Christopher Le Brun, president of the Royal Academy, said: ‘Charles I is one of history’s greatest collectors, the Royal Collection is one of the world’s greatest collections and the Royal Academy’s galleries are amongst the finest in the world.  With such a combination this exhibition provides the perfect launch for our 250th anniversary celebrations in 2018’.

Captions in full: Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson, 1633. Oil on canvas. By Anthony van Dyck. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Samuel H Kress Collection. Photo © Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Triumph of Caesar: The Vase Bearers, c 1484-92. Tempera on canvas. By Andrea Mantegna. Royal Collection Trust. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

The Supper at Emmaus, c 1530. Oil on canvas. By Titan. Paris, Louvre Museum. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre)/ Stéphane Maréchalle.

Venus with Mercury and Cupid. By Correggio.

Anne Cresacre, c 1527. Black and coloured chalks on paper. By Hans Holbein the Younger. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

Aphrodite (The Crouching Venus), 2nd century, Roman. Marble. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

Cupid and Psyche, 1639-40. Oil on canvas. By Anthony van Dyck. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

Charles I: King and Collector runs from January 27 to April 15, 2018, 10am – 6pm daily. Late night opening on Fridays until 10pm.

Wealth of art.


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