|Anthony van Dyck, Charles I in Three Positions|
One of the last things that King Charles I saw on January 30 1649 as he made his way through the Banqueting House to the scaffold outside was the glorious ceiling painting he had commissioned in honour of his father, King James. The work of Peter Paul Rubens, it was one of some 2000 works of art in Charles’s collection, and one of the few not sold off after his execution by Oliver Cromwell. This sumptuous exhibition at the Royal Academy reunites 140 of them, including more than 90 pieces rescued and returned to the Royal Collection by subsequent monarchs. Charles acquired a taste for art when in 1623 he visited Madrid to pay court to a Spanish princess. He returned to England without his prospective bride but with a number of paintings, including some by Titian and Veronese. Bitten by the collecting bug, he went on to acquire works amassed by the Gonzaga family of Mantua, who had fallen on hard times. Among them were paintings by Leonardo and Raphael, as well as many from Northern Europe, and some antique sculptures, including this Crouching Venus (2nd c AD).
|Anthony van Dyck, Charles I in the Hunting Field c 1636|
Interestingly, not all the works reflect the king’s personal taste – many were gifts from ambassadors or other nobles. Mantegna’s monumental series, The Triumph of Caesar c 1484 – 92, which fills a dedicated gallery (below), might have been seen as somewhat old-fashioned when it arrived; it was displayed at Hampton Court, rather than Whitehall Palace.
Charles I, King and Collector. Royal Academy, London, until April 15 2018. £20 (concessions available)