Keith Thomas

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Charles I: King and Col­lec­tor an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Royal Academy of Arts, Lon­don

Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion edited by Des­mond Shawe-Tay­lor and Per Rum­berg The White King: Charles I, Traitor, Mur­derer, Mar­tyr by Le­anda de Lisle

Charles I:

King and Col­lec­tor an ex­hi­bi­tion at the

Royal Academy of Arts, Lon­don, Jan­uary 27–April 15, 2018.

Cat­a­log of the ex­hi­bi­tion edited by Des­mond Shawe-Tay­lor and Per Rum­berg.

Lon­don: Royal Academy of Arts, 267 pp., $65.00

The White King:

Charles I, Traitor, Mur­derer, Mar­tyr by Le­anda de Lisle.

PublicAf­fairs, 401 pp., $30.00

The Royal Academy’s mag­nif­i­cent ex­hi­bi­tion “Charles I: King and Col­lec­tor” re­vealed a great deal about the col­lec­tor, but al­most noth­ing about the king. Per­haps this was a de­lib­er­ate omis­sion, for although Charles I, king of Great Bri­tain and Ire­land be­tween 1625 and 1649, built up what be­came one of the great­est art col­lec­tions to be found in mid-sev­en­teen­th­cen­tury Europe, he was a spec­tac­u­larly un­suc­cess­ful monarch. As a boy, he was over­shad­owed by his dash­ing older brother, Henry, whose sud­den death from ty­phoid in 1612 made the twelve-year-old Charles the un­ex­pected heir ap­par­ent. He was a del­i­cate child; rick­ets had given him weak an­kles, but as he grew up, he over­came this dis­abil­ity and de­vel­oped into an ex­cel­lent horse­man. He re­tained a bad speech im­ped­i­ment, how­ever, and he was barely five feet four inches tall. Nat­u­rally shy in his deal­ings with peo­ple, he took refuge in ex­treme for­mal­ity and re­gal hau­teur.

His reign be­gan badly. In re­sponse to the urg­ing of Ge­orge Vil­liers, Duke of Buck­ing­ham, his fa­ther’s fa­vorite and his own close friend, he em­barked upon two wars, first against Spain and then against France. Both failed mis­er­ably. Re­la­tions with his Par­lia­ments, which were re­luc­tant to fund these cam­paigns and hos­tile to his anti-Calvin­ist re­li­gious sym­pa­thies, be­came in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult. In 1629 he chose to rule with­out Par­lia­ment and con­tin­ued for eleven years, fund­ing his gov­ern­ment by legally ques­tion­able meth­ods.

His at­tempt in 1637 to im­pose a new Angli­can prayer book upon the Pres­by­te­rian Scots was fiercely re­sisted. Charles re­sponded with an armed in­va­sion that he lacked the re­sources to sus­tain. By 1640 he was forced to turn to Par­lia­ment for fi­nan­cial help, only to un­leash a pas­sion­ate at­tack on his con­duct dur­ing the pe­riod of per­sonal rule and a se­ries of mea­sures de­signed to dis­man­tle his en­tire sys­tem of gov­ern­ment. His fail­ure in Jan­uary 1642 to ar­rest five of the most ob­streper­ous MPs was the last straw. He left Lon­don to raise troops, and in Au­gust de­clared war upon the par­lia­men­tary op­po­si­tion.

The two civil wars that fol­lowed brought in the Ir­ish as well as the Scots. The king was de­feated, but the deaths on both sides were pro­por­tion­ately as nu­mer­ous as Bri­tish losses in World War I. In the sub­se­quent ne­go­ti­a­tions Charles failed to ac­cept a peace­ful set­tle­ment, ex­as­per­at­ing his op­po­nents by his du­plic­ity and re­luc­tance to com­pro­mise. His trial and ex­e­cu­tion in Jan­uary 1649 as a “man of blood” who had levied war against his peo­ple were fol­lowed by the procla­ma­tion of a repub­lic.

One of the new Com­mon­wealth’s first acts was to con­fis­cate the late king’s pos­ses­sions. A few of his art­works were re­tained by the state, but the re­main­der were ei­ther used to set­tle the Crown’s debts or sold off on the open mar­ket. When Charles II was re­stored to the throne in 1660 a se­ri­ous ef­fort was made to get the col­lec­tion

back, and, amaz­ingly, by the end of his reign the great bulk of it had been re­cov­ered. But many of the very finest paint­ings had ended up in the royal col­lec­tions of Spain and France, and there they stayed. Oth­ers have since been scat­tered all over the world.

Most nar­ra­tors of these dra­matic events have been ei­ther Cava­liers or Round­heads. The Whig his­to­ri­ans from Thomas Babing­ton Macaulay to Ge­orge Macaulay Trevelyan were Round­heads. They re­garded Charles I as the would-be ar­chi­tect of royal ab­so­lutism. They noted that he levied il­le­gal tax­a­tion, bil­leted troops on in­no­cent house­hold­ers, and ar­bi­trar­ily ar­rested dis­si­dent MPs. The out­stand­ing au­thor­ity on the pe­riod, the Vic­to­rian Sa­muel Raw­son Gar­diner, could not forgive him for his will­ing­ness to con­done plots to use force against Par­lia­ment long be­fore war broke out. Charles was the au­thor­i­tar­ian who said on the scaf­fold that the peo­ple were not en­ti­tled to a share in the gov­ern­ment: “That is noth­ing ap­per­tain­ing to them. A sub­ject and a sovereign are clear dif­fer­ent things.”

On the other side, the Cava­liers re­called Charles’s grave de­meanor, his chaste and af­fec­tion­ate do­mes­tic life, his courage, and his dig­ni­fied be­hav­ior dur­ing the last weeks of his life. They ad­mired his un­shaken com­mit­ment to the li­turgy and gov­ern­ment of the Church of Eng­land, and they were moved by the pi­ous sin­cer­ity of his spir­i­tual and po­lit­i­cal re­flec­tions in his book, Eikon Basi­like (the im­age of the king). Ghost­writ­ten by a roy­al­ist cleric, it was pub­lished within days of the king’s ex­e­cu­tion and long re­mained a huge best seller. Charles’s sta­tus as a Christ-like mar­tyr was of­fi­cially rec­og­nized in 1660, when Par­lia­ment can­on­ized him as an Angli­can saint and or­dered an­nual prayers in his honor on Jan­uary 30, the day of his ex­e­cu­tion. This re­quire­ment re­mained in the Church of Eng­land’s prayer book un­til 1859, and there is still a So­ci­ety of King Charles the Mar­tyr. To­day, as in the past, Charles re­mains a hero for many Tories, High Church Angli­cans, and Ro­man Catholics.

Af­ter Trevelyan, Whig his­tory fell into dis­fa­vor, though Marx­ist his­to­ri­ans con­tin­ued the Round­head tra­di­tion by re­gard­ing Charles as a feu­dal sur­vival doomed to be swept away by a ris­ing bour­geoisie. In con­trast, the so-called re­vi­sion­ist his­to­ri­ans of the later twen­ti­eth cen­tury re­garded the civil war as an un­for­tu­nate ac­ci­dent rather than the in­evitable con­se­quence of royal tyranny or so­cial change. Their view of Charles was of­ten more sym­pa­thetic. The most ex­treme state­ment was by Kevin Sharpe in The Per­sonal Rule of Charles I (1992), in which he rightly noted that for most of the 1630s Eng­land en­joyed “hal­cyon days” of peace, at a time when Europe was con­vulsed by the Thirty Years’ War. More con­tro­ver­sially, he played down the ex­tent of op­po­si­tion to what the Whigs had called the “Eleven Years’ Tyranny.” As he saw it, the rule of this hard-work­ing and high-principled king over a largely con­tented peo­ple was dis­rupted only by the Scot­tish re­sis­tance in 1637 to Charles’s at­tempt to im­pose the new prayer book. But Sharpe could not deny that from that at­tempt fol­lowed the se­quence of events lead­ing to the Long Par­lia­ment, the civil war, and the regi­cide; and for all that, Charles bore the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Like Sharpe, Le­anda de Lisle is em­phat­i­cally a Cava­lier, though her vividly writ­ten bi­og­ra­phy The White King lacks the eru­di­tion un­der­pin­ning Sharpe’s mag­num opus. Res­i­dent in Le­ices­ter­shire and with a sur­name that must have eased her re­la­tions with the lo­cal aris­toc­racy, she makes great play of her finds in stately houses, par­tic­u­larly some un­pub­lished let­ters of Charles’s queen, Hen­ri­etta Maria, in the nor­mally in­ac­ces­si­ble ar­chives of the Duke of Rut­land at Belvoir Cas­tle.1 But though in­ter­est­ing, they do not add much to what is al­ready known.

For the most part, de Lisle draws upon sec­ondary works, and her end­notes are of­ten slap­dash. She has lit­tle time for Charles’s crit­ics, and few of her read­ers will emerge with a very clear idea as to why he should have en­coun­tered so much op­po­si­tion in his early Par­lia­ments. In her eyes, Charles was a tragic hero, “a coura­geous king, of high ideals, whose flaws and mis­judge­ments lead to his ruin,” and “a bet­ter ex­em­plar of a chival­ric knight than he ever was a king.” This is what the au­thors of 1066 and All That called the “Wrong but Wro­man­tic” view of the king. De Lisle is strong, how­ever, on Charles’s do­mes­tic life. Af­ter a hare­brained jour­ney with Buck­ing­ham to Madrid in 1623 to court the Span­ish in­fanta, he was mar­ried in 1625 to Hen­ri­etta Maria (Hen­ri­ette-Marie), daugh­ter of the late Henri IV of France and his wife, Marie de Médi­cis. The cou­ple’s first years to­gether were dif­fi­cult. Hen­ri­etta Maria was fif­teen. She was also an ex­tremely pi­ous Catholic. The queen’s con­fes­sors set se­vere lim­its on the fre­quency of her mar­i­tal in­ter­course, while the king was sex­u­ally de­mand­ing. He may also have been closer emo­tion­ally to Buck­ing­ham than to his wife. It was only af­ter the duke’s as­sas­si­na­tion in 1628 and the end of the war with France that the royal pair grew closer, com­ing to terms with their re­li­gious dif­fer­ences and forg­ing an in­tense re­la­tion­ship that, de­spite their per­ma­nent sep­a­ra­tion af­ter her flight to France in 1644, lasted un­til Charles’s death. Af­ter the pre­ma­ture birth in May 1629 of a son who lived for only two hours, Hen­ri­etta Maria went on to bear him seven more chil­dren, en­sur­ing the con­ti­nu­ity of the dy­nasty and di­min­ish­ing the in­cen­tive for Charles to get in­volved in the Thirty Years’ War in the hope of re­cov­er­ing the Rhine Palati­nate for his sis­ter El­iz­a­beth, the “Win­ter Queen,” and her sons, who would have been next in line for the suc­ces­sion.

One of de Lisle’s main ob­jec­tives is to re­veal the im­por­tant place of women in the pol­i­tics of the pe­riod. She re­minds us of the red-headed and pock­marked roy­al­ist agent Jane Whor­wood, to whom in 1648 Charles, then a pris­oner in Caris­brooke Cas­tle, made un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally lewd ad­vances. She also has much to say about the pro­mis­cu­ous and so­cially am­bi­tious beauty Lucy Hay, Count­ess of Carlisle, the queen’s 1In much the same way, Lawrence Stone, the his­to­rian of the ear­ly­mod­ern English no­bil­ity and a for­mer stu­dent at Ox­ford’s most aris­to­cratic col­lege, was al­ways care­ful to wear his Christ Church tie when seek­ing ac­cess to closed ar­chives in stately homes.

one­time fa­vorite, who be­trayed her by warn­ing one of the par­lia­men­tary lead­ers of the king’s in­ten­tion to ar­rest the five MPs.

Above all, de Lisle seeks to res­cue Hen­ri­etta Maria from the “misog­yny, re­li­gious prej­u­dice and the pro­pa­ganda of her en­e­mies.” She em­pha­sizes the queen’s un­re­lent­ing ef­forts to end the per­se­cu­tion of English Catholics and her to­tal com­mit­ment to her hus­band’s cause. Here she fol­lows the his­to­ri­ans Caro­line Hib­bard and Erin Grif­fey, though what they re­vealed was that the queen was as much a li­a­bil­ity to Charles as a help.2 In the 1630s diplo­matic re­la­tions with the pa­pacy were re­sumed, and her Catholi­cism be­came in­creas­ingly vis­i­ble. Charles him­self was a firm sup­porter of the Church of Eng­land, but the in­stal­la­tion of Catholic chapels in Hen­ri­etta Maria’s seven palaces, her en­tourage of priests and fri­ars, and her be­ing the god­daugh­ter of Pope Ur­ban VIII all gave cre­dence to the abid­ing Protes­tant fear that the king was party to a popish plot. When the civil war broke out, her ef­forts to raise troops in Ire­land and other Catholic coun­tries only con­firmed these sus­pi­cions. Her en­e­mies pub­lished her cap­tured cor­re­spon­dence with Charles to show that it was she who wore the breeches and was suc­cess­fully per­suad­ing Charles to al­low his Catholic sub­jects re­li­gious free­dom.

Hen­ri­etta Maria had a large in­de­pen­dent in­come, which she spent freely on clothes, jew­els, court en­ter­tain­ments, and build­ing projects. Like Charles, she was a great pa­tron of artists. The French sculp­tor Hu­bert Le Sueur ac­com­pa­nied her to Eng­land, and it was for her that he did some of his best work. The pope’s nephew sent her pic­tures by An­drea del Sarto, Leonardo, and Gi­ulio Ro­mano. The Ital­ian artist Orazio Gen­tileschi be­came her chief painter and did the ceil­ing for the Queen’s House at Green­wich. He was joined later by his daugh­ter, Artemisia, a gifted artist who has at­tracted much in­ter­est among mod­ern fem­i­nist his­to­ri­ans be­cause of her pen­chant for Old Tes­ta­ment scenes fea­tur­ing strong, as­sertive women. The Royal Academy ex­hi­bi­tion de­voted an en­tire room to the Gen­tileschis and other paint­ings of pow­er­ful women, like Christo­fano Al­lori’s Judith with the Head of Holofernes. The ex­hi­bi­tion’s ti­tle, how­ever, con­cealed the fact that the pic­tures on view were not just the king’s, but what the Rump Par­lia­ment called “the goods and per­sonal es­tate of the late King, Queen and Prince.” “Charles I: King and Col­lec­tor” was a valiant at­tempt to re­unite what it called “a sig­nif­i­cant part” of the royal col­lec­tion. Out of the 1,500 or so paint­ings and 500 sculp­tures once owned by Charles, it se­lected 140 items. But of these, about ninety came from the present-day Royal Col­lec­tion and only twenty-two from out­side the UK. The Lou­vre lent three pic­tures and the Prado five, but they held on to more re­mark­able works by Man­tegna, Dürer, Raphael, Leonardo, Gior­gione, Cor­reg­gio, 2Caro­line M. Hib­bard, “Hen­ri­etta Maria,” in Ox­ford Dic­tionary of Na­tional Bi­og­ra­phy (Ox­ford Univer­sity Press, 2004); Erin Grif­fey, On Dis­play: Hen­ri­etta Maria and the Ma­te­ri­als of Mag­nif­i­cence at the Stu­art Court (Yale Univer­sity Press, 2015). Ti­tian, Tin­toretto, and Car­avag­gio, all of which had once been part of Charles’s fab­u­lous col­lec­tion. Many of these are il­lus­trated in the in­for­ma­tive cat­a­log ac­com­pa­ny­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion. Charles’s col­lec­tion de­rived from many dif­fer­ent sources. Some works were in­her­ited from his mother, James I’s queen, Anne of Den­mark. She re­vived the royal col­lec­tion, ne­glected since the days of Henry VIII, and en­cour­aged her el­dest son, Henry, to form his own col­lec­tion of Euro­pean masters, in­clud­ing the first Re­nais­sance bronzes to reach Eng­land and a huge num­ber of an­tique coins, medals, and seals. More im­por­tant were the con­se­quences of Charles’s oth­er­wise ill-fated visit to Madrid in 1623. Not only was he pro­foundly im­pressed by the vis­ual mag­nif­i­cence of Philip IV’s Es­co­rial and other palaces, crammed with mas­ter­pieces, but as the Span­ish king’s prospec­tive son-in-law, he re­turned home laden with gifts and pur­chases, in­clud­ing works by Veronese and Cor­reg­gio, a por­trait of him by Velázquez, and four Ti­tians, among them the erotic Jupiter and An­tiope (the “Pardo Venus”) and Charles V on Horse­back.

By the time he be­came king, Charles had al­ready ac­quired a suf­fi­ciently re­spectable col­lec­tion of Euro­pean masters to al­low him to hold up his head among the other English col­lec­tors of his day, like the Earl of Arun­del, who had, among much else, forty paint­ings by Hol­bein and the great­est col­lec­tion of old mas­ter drawings in Europe, or Charles’s friend Buck­ing­ham, who built up a uniquely im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of works by Peter Paul Rubens. What put Charles’s col­lec­tion in a to­tally dif­fer­ent class was his ac­qui­si­tion be­tween 1626 and 1632, through the shady Flem­ish col­lec­tor and dealer Daniel Nijs, of the leg­endary col­lec­tion of the Gon­zaga dukes of Man­tua, who had been forced to sell for fi­nan­cial rea­sons.

Thirty-one of the items in the Royal Academy’s ex­hi­bi­tion came from the Man­tua pur­chase. They in­cluded Ti­tian’s mag­is­te­rial Sup­per at Em­maus and The Al­lo­cu­tion of Al­fonso d’Ava­los; Jan Gos­saert’s liv­ing and breath­ing Por­trait of a Man Hold­ing a Glove; two out­stand­ing Cor­reg­gios, Venus with Mer­cury and Cupid and The Holy Fam­ily with St Jerome; Bronzino’s won­der­fully serene Por­trait of a Woman in Green; The Toi­let of Venus by Charles’s fa­vorite seven­teenth-cen­tury artist, Guido Reni; and half a dozen su­perb pieces of an­tique sculp­ture, in­clud­ing the volup­tuous “Crouch­ing Venus,” baldly de­scribed in the Gon­zaga cat­a­log as “a naked woman sit­ting on her heels.” Most mag­nif­i­cent of all were the nine huge can­vases of Man­tegna’s The Tri­umph of Cae­sar. Though dam­aged on its voy­age to Eng­land, re­painted and fre­quently re­paired, this rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the gen­eral’s tri­umphal pro­ces­sion seen from be­low re­mains an over­whelm­ingly im­pres­sive evo­ca­tion of the ma­te­rial para­pher­na­lia of clas­si­cal an­tiq­uity, with its vases and urns, busts and stat­ues, weapons and ar­mor, ban­ners and stan­dards, lamps and can­de­labra, trum­pets and tam­borines, horses and ele­phants, all pre­ced­ing the vic­to­ri­ous leader in his heav­ily or­na­mented char­iot.

Af­ter the Man­tua ac­qui­si­tion, the king’s in­ter­est in paint­ing was widely rec­og­nized and gifts from di­plo­mats, courtiers, and as­pir­ing artists flowed in. Rubens came to Eng­land in 1629 to ne­go­ti­ate the peace with Spain and cel­e­brated its con­clu­sion by pre­sent­ing Charles with his Min­erva [Wis­dom] Pro­tects Pax [Peace] from Mars [War]. English am­bas­sadors were or­dered to look out for suit­able ac­qui­si­tions and English col­lec­tors per­suaded to swap their mas­ter­pieces for works that the king found less at­trac­tive. Charles also made great ef­forts to en­cour­age for­eign artists to come to Lon­don and work for him. The Ger­man painter Fran­cis Cleyn was hired to de­sign ta­pes­tries for the fac­tory at Mort­lake in Sur­rey. Rubens was com­mis­sioned to de­pict the apoth­e­o­sis of James I on the ceil­ing of Inigo Jones’s Ban­quet­ing House. Hu­bert Le Sueur was em­ployed by the trea­surer, Sir Richard We­ston, to pro­duce the equestrian statue of the king that to­day stands in Trafal­gar Square look­ing down to White­hall. Above all, Rubens’s best pupil, the Flem­ish painter An­thony van Dyck, was knighted by Charles and ap­pointed “Prin­ci­pal Painter in Or­di­nary to His Majesty.”

It is by Van Dyck’s por­traits of Charles and his fam­ily that the king is best re­mem­bered to­day, and they formed the core of the Academy’s ex­hi­bi­tion. All the most strik­ing ones were there: Charles in his robes of state; Charles on horse­back; Charles with Hen­ri­etta Maria; Charles the fa­ther of his fam­ily and guardian of the na­tion; Charles painted from three dif­fer­ent an­gles so that Bernini in far­away Rome could make his bust; Hen­ri­etta Maria in a dash­ing black hat and a ravishing blue dress, ac­com­pa­nied by her dwarf and pet mon­key; Charles’s five el­dest chil­dren, calm in the pres­ence of a gi­ant mas­tiff. The most dra­matic was the huge il­lu­sion­ist por­trait of the king guid­ing his great horse through a tri­umphal arch and, it seemed, right into the gallery it­self. The most beau­ti­ful, last seen in Eng­land in the 1640s (now in the Lou­vre), was of Charles in the hunt­ing field: an anx­ious groom tends the king’s ob­vi­ously ex­hausted horse, while Charles faces us, a su­pe­rior, faintly dis­dain­ful fig­ure, su­perbly el­e­gant and to­tally un­ruf­fled by his ex­er­tions in the sad­dle.

For sheer bravura, Van Dyck’s fluid, ro­man­tic paint­ing, with its del­i­cate flesh tones, grace­ful pos­tures, and shim­mer­ing drap­ery, has never been sur­passed. Vis­i­tors to the ex­hi­bi­tion mar­veled at his vir­tu­os­ity, but in this as­ton­ish­ing ac­cu­mu­la­tion of mas­ter­pieces they had so much else to ad­mire as well: Gos­saert’s mus­cu­lar Adam and Eve; Peter Bruegel’s be­guil­ing Three Sol­diers from the Frick; an ex­cep­tional Ado­ra­tion of the Shep­herds by Ja­copo Bas­sano; Rubens’s Land­scape with St Ge­orge and the Dragon, with Charles I por­trayed as Saint Ge­orge; and the great Mort­lake ta­pes­tries, based on Raphael’s car­toons for The Acts of the Apos­tles and re­garded at the time as much more valu­able than paint­ings, be­cause they were so la­bor-in­ten­sive and used up so much gold and sil­ver. Par­tic­u­larly en­chant­ing was the par­tial recre­ation of Charles’s Cab­i­net and Chair Rooms in White­hall Palace, where he kept some of his smaller and choic­est pos­ses­sions. They in­cluded su­perb por­traits by Quin­ten Massys, Dürer, and Hol­bein; tiny ver­sions by Peter Oliver of ma­jor paint­ings by Raphael, Ti­tian, and Cor­reg­gio; and Isaac Oliver’s minia­ture of Charles as a rather un­ingra­ti­at­ing teenager, fol­lowed by Peter Oliver’s im­age of him aged about twenty, with an em­bry­onic mous­tache and look­ing much more alert. There were many ex­quis­ite minia­tures by Ni­cholas Hil­liard and the Oliv­ers, small bronzes by Francesco Fanelli and Le Sueur, and com­mem­o­ra­tive medals in sil­ver and gold. Es­pe­cially mem­o­rable was the dam­aged but still mar­velous Ro­man sar­donyx cameo of the em­peror Claudius, a su­perb ex­am­ple of clas­si­cal art.

The ex­hi­bi­tion made no ref­er­ence to Charles’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, but pro­vided the vis­i­tors with in­tense aes­thetic plea­sure largely de­void of his­tor­i­cal con­text. The es­says in the cat­a­log of­fer help­ful com­ments on the king’s taste, stress­ing his to­tal in­dif­fer­ence to artists work­ing be­fore 1500 (Man­tegna ex­cepted), his ad­mi­ra­tion for Cor­reg­gio and Ti­tian, his predilec­tion for fe­male nudes, and his will­ing­ness to ex­change a whole al­bum of Hol­bein por­trait drawings for a sin­gle paint­ing by Raphael. They also point out that Charles was highly de­pen­dent on agents and ad­vis­ers. He had no sys­tem­atic ac­qui­si­tion pol­icy and was usu­ally happy to leave his pur­chases to their judg­ment. What he wanted was to re­in­force his in­ter­na­tional pres­tige with a col­lec­tion com­pa­ra­ble in mag­nif­i­cence to that of his Span­ish and French coun­ter­parts. For that he was pre­pared to spend money on the Man­tuan pic­tures that could have been spent on sav­ing Buck­ing­ham from mil­i­tary fail­ure in the war against France. His own com­mis­sions were largely con­fined to the glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of him­self and his dy­nasty, an ob­jec­tive that Rubens and Van Dyck achieved in spades.

The irony was that the rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the diminu­tive king as a ma­jes­tic em­peror and of his lit­tle wife with a curved spine and pro­trud­ing teeth as a ravishing and fer­tile beauty were hung in Charles’s pri­vate quar­ters and seen only by priv­i­leged vis­i­tors. They were there for nar­cis­sis­tic con­tem­pla­tion rather than the in­struc­tion of the king’s sub­jects. As it turned out, many of his en­e­mies were highly sus­pi­cious of Catholic painters and las­civ­i­ous nudes. When the time came, they un­hesi­tat­ingly got rid of them, thus dis­pers­ing a won­der­ful col­lec­tion that will never be re­united.

An­thony van Dyck: Charles I and Hen­ri­etta Maria Hold­ing a Lau­rel Wreath, 1632

Hu­bert Le Sueur: Charles I on Horse­back, circa 1630–1633

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