Ex­hi­bi­tions Huon Mal­lalieu


The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

The Queen’s Gallery, Buck­ing­ham Palace to 30th Septem­ber

As a pa­tron of the arts, the Prince of Wales is par­tic­u­larly in­spired by two of his pre­de­ces­sors, Charles II and Ge­orge III. This ex­hi­bi­tion, which he has cu­rated to mark his 70th birth­day, is con­ceived as a Kun­stkam­mer such as would have been fa­mil­iar to them both.

There are more than 100 ob­jects from the Royal Col­lec­tion that mean much to him and in some cases have fas­ci­nated him since child­hood, to­gether with some of his own. It is nat­u­ral that a por­trait of Charles II should be promi­nently dis­played, and that the de­sign of the ex­hi­bi­tion should be in­spired by a work closely as­so­ci­ated with Ge­orge III and his wife, Queen Charlotte.

The lau­rel-wreathed Charles II by An­to­nio Ver­rio is a frag­ment from the ceil­ing of St Ge­orge’s Hall, Wind­sor Cas­tle, re­moved dur­ing Ge­orge IV’S 1824 restora­tions. It was on the Lon­don mar­ket re­cently and so is likely to be one of the Prince’s own ad­di­tions to the col­lec­tion. In the 1990s it was of­fered in Vi­enna as a por­trait of Em­peror Leopold I. It is good that it has re­turned home.

The show’s de­sign is based on Jo­hann Zof­fany’s The Tri­buna of the Uf­fizi com­mis­sioned by Charlotte in 1772. It took five years to com­plete and, when de­liv­ered, ended the artist’s royal pa­tron­age. Charlotte dis­ap­proved of the many sex­ual jokes and in­nu­en­dos. Zof­fany crowded the Grand Duke of Tus­cany’s gallery not only with his

trea­sures, but also with English Grand Tourists, con­nois­seurs, dilet­tanti and lib­ertines. One group ogles the rump of the Venus de Medici. The painting was ban­ished to the King’s room at Kew, where he could en­joy the Venus of Urbino.

The oc­tag­o­nal lay­out of the show, cre­ated within Buck­ing­ham Palace’s Ball Sup­per Room, echoes that of the Tri­buna, as does the scat­ter of ex­hibits which, as in the Zof­fany, in­clude works by Hol­bein, Rubens, Raphael and Ti­tian.

Other royal col­lec­tors are recog­nised, in­clud­ing Queen Mary II, rep­re­sented by some of the Chi­nese blue and white porce­lain she avidly amassed, and nat­u­rally Queen Vic­to­ria and Prince Al­bert. Vanessa Rem­ing­ton, cu­ra­tor of paint­ings at the col­lec­tion, has pointed out that the choice of Land­seer’s prepara­tory oil sketch of Vic­to­ria and a face­less Al­bert (for Wind­sor Cas­tle in Modern Times) re­flects Prince Charles’s in­ter­est in the pro­cesses of mak­ing art.

This links to var­i­ous paint­ings and ob­jects cre­ated by young artists as­so­ci­ated with three char­i­ties founded by the Prince: the Royal Draw­ing School, the Prince’s School of Tra­di­tional Arts, and Turquoise Moun­tain, which trains ar­ti­sans in Afghanistan. There are also a couple of his own wa­ter­colours (de­spite the sneer­ers, he should be judged as the tal­ented am­a­teur that he is), a couple of his books, and nu­mer­ous por­traits of his fam­ily, which vary in qual­ity.

Can one won­der that as a boy he should have been cap­ti­vated by Napoleon’s scar­let and gold Ber­ber cloak cap­tured at Water­loo? This is an ad­mirably per­sonal dis­play, and shows much of its cu­ra­tor’s per­son­al­ity. It is very hu­man yet in the spirit of a cabi­net of cu­riosi­ties that there should be loved ex­am­ples of near-kitsch among the trea­sures.

The art of sex­ual in­nu­endo: Jo­hann Zof­fany’s The Tri­buna of the Uf­fizi (1772-78)

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