Charles I: King and Collector

Charles I in Three Positions - Anthony van Dyck c. 1635

An overcast rainy day in London is the perfect day to go to an art gallery, and that is exactly what I did! I took this opportunity to visit the long anticipated and highly recommended 'Charles I: King and Collector' currently on display at the Royal Academy. It did not disappoint.

There are a total of ten rooms, ranging from Charles I's own taste, for example pieces of art created during the Northern Renaissance, to portraits of the royal family by the court painter, Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641). The vast range, not only of style of portraits and mediums, but of origin is staggering. I don't think I quite fathomed how much of the Royal Collection was sold off after Charles I's public execution in 1649.

Charles I on Horseback with M. de St Antoine - Sir Anthony van Dyck (1633)

Charles I was born in 1600 into the House of Stuart, son of James VI of Scotland and I of England and his wife Anne of Denmark. An accidental king, he was crowned after the death of his elder brother Henry, Prince of Wales, in 1612. At the age of 22, he married the 15 year old Henrietta Maria of France, a popular choice after his dalliance with the deeply unpopular Infanta Maria Anna of Spain. Due to Henrietta Maria's upbringing in the court of France, she had a great appreciation and taste for the arts. One of the most interesting points brought out of this exhibition was how much she influenced the royal collection, an influence previously overlooked.

Ironically it was his initial trip to Spain to woo the Infanta Maria Anna that sparked his Charles I's passion for art. It is known that he sat for a sketch whilst visiting the Spanish court for a new, up and coming court artist, Diego Velasquez. Shortly after he acquired multiple Titian's and works by Veronese, Correggio to name but a few. In fact the portrait of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor with a dog by Titian was gifted to Charles I by Philip III during this visit.

Charles V with a Dog - Titian (1532)

Once back in England, Charles I went on to commission vast amounts of portraiture and decorative art for his residences. The ceiling of the Banqueting House by Peter Paul Rubens is one of the most spectacular examples. At the exhibition there was a wonderful sketch on display of 'The Apotheosis of James I and Other Studies'.

The Banqueting House Ceiling - Peter Paul Rubens (c.1633)
The Apotheosis of James I and Ohter Studies - Peter Paul Rubens (c.1630)

In 1627 Charles I purchased the entire collection of the Duke of Mantua, a collection that had been amassed by the Gonzaga family and included more works by Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio and Mantegna.

In 1632, after making a huge impression on Charles I, Anthony van Dyck was knighted and appointed as court painter. He received a pension of £200 a year in the grant described as 'principalle Paynter in ordinary to their majisties'. Additionally he received a large gold chain, which can be seen in this wonderful self-portrait.

Self-Portrait with a Sunflower - Sir Anthony van Dyck (after 1633)

The portraits of Charles I with his favourite agent, Endymion Porter were my personal favourites, especially Charles I at the Hunt (c. 1635).

Charles I at the Hunt - Sir Anthony van Dyck (c. 1635)

The most fascinating room in this exhibition was one that explored his collection of miniatures. Completely separate to the rest of his collection, he kept them around 80 miniatures in the Cabinet Room in the Privy Gallery at Whitehall Palace which he used almost as a retreat from the bustling palace.

After surrendering himself to the Scots, Charles I was tried in Parliament and found guilty of high treason, resulting in a public execution outside the Banqueting House in London. At the time of his death in 1649 there were an estimated 1760 paintings. Most of these were sold by Parliament.

I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, it was truly glorious. If you have the opportunity to see it, it is an absolute must. I doubt the likes of this exhibition will be seen again for some time.

Charles I: King and Collector

From Jan 27 to April 15 2018

Royal Academy of Arts (020 7300 8090)

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