‘Charles I, King & Collector’, at The Royal Academy, London – 27 March

‘Charles I, King & Collector’, at The Royal Academy, London – 27 March

Charles I in the Hunting FieldThe ‘Charles I, King & Collector’ show, with its myriad treasures, primarily from the Northern and Italian Renaissance, will certainly prove to be one of the exhibitions of the year. What a collection, all notionally in the ownership of one man! Work by Titian, Mantegna, The Younger Holbein, Brueghel the Elder, Tintoretto, Gentileschi, Giovane, Bernini and, of course, those ‘twin giants’ Peter Paul Rubens and Court Painter, Anthony Van Dyck, taken together, formed an impressive archive by anybody’s standards. Its acquisition, dissolution and reassembly, for the purpose of this, unique exhibition is a remarkable story in itself.

Charles I was nothing if not a vain man, as underlined by the number of (invariably enormous) portraits of him that feature in this show, almost all by the hand of Van Dyck. Also, Charles’ reputation for being notoriously reluctant to pay his debts regarding the copious number of works purchased – and never the full price agreed – does little to enhance his standing as the foremost connoisseur-collector of his time. However, as we know, a series of fatal, political moves cost him both his throne and his head, condemning this country to eleven years as a Republic, from which the relatively newly ‘United Kingdom’ was fortunate (or not, depending upon your royalist or republican leanings!) to ‘reverse’.

Favourite work on show?… So many candidates! Possibly one of Van Dyck’s imposing equestrian portraits of Charles in the Hunting Field, hung together, to great effect, in the Central Hall? Or maybe the well-known ‘Charles I in three positions’ painting, again by Van Dyck and now restored to the Royal Collection? Others may favour the enormous Mortlake Tapestries, woven from designs by Raphael or Giovane’s ‘The Conversion of St. Paul’ and its companion piece, ‘The Triumph of David over Goliath’, from the Prado. For me, possibly a dead heat between Hans Holbein the Younger’s ‘Noli me tangere’ and Titian’s ‘Supper at Emmaus’, loaned from the Louvre.

Bob Williams

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