The Royal Academy of Arts is exhibiting Charles I’s extraordinary art collection from 27 January to 15 April 2018, including works from the Royal Collection Trust.

Anthony van Dyck, Charles I, 1635-6 Oil on canvas, 84.4 x 99.4 cm RCIN 404420 Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

These great masterpieces have been reunited for the first time in about 400 years, with many on loan, with about 150 works of art ranging from classical sculptures to Baroque paintings, exquisite miniatures to monumental tapestries.

Charles I was a keen collector and bought the Duke of Mantua’s entire art collection in 1627 and 1628, which included works by the finest artists, such Titian, Mantegna and Dürer.

Titian, The Supper at Emmaus, c.1530
Oil on canvas, 169 x 244 cm
Paris, Louvre Museum, Department of Paintings, inv. 746
Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée du Louvre) / Stéphane Maréchalle

He also commissioned leading contemporary artists Van Dyck, Daniel Mytens and Rubens who painted Whitehall’s Banqueting House’s magnificent ceiling.

There were an estimated 1,760 painting in the collection when he died. Most were sold off and dispersed by Parliament, to repay large outstanding royal debts. and to raise funds for the Royal Navy.

Andrea Mantegna, Triumph of Caesar: The Vase Bearers, c. 1484-92
Tempera on canvas, 269.5 x 280 cm
RCIN 403961
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

His collection was scattered across Europe, despite his son Charles II’s best efforts to retrieve as many of these precious works during the Restoration.

Many ended up in museums such as The Louvre and the Museo Nacional del Prado.

Charles I was often criticised during his reign for his extravagance, including spending money on masterpieces, despite facing bankruptcy during the 1640s.

Hans Holbein the Younger, Anne Cresacre, c. 1527
Black and coloured chalks on paper, 37.2 x 26.6 cm
RCIN 912270
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

However, it was Charles I’s belief in the divine right of kings and pursuit of unpopular policies, including imposing a tax called Ship Money without Parliamentary consent, which led to his ruin and death on the scaffold in 1649.

Charles thought he was only answerable to God, not to his Parliament, who refused to grant the necessary funds unless certain conditions were met.

He was often criticised for his extravagance, especially spending money on works of art.

He was later canonised as a saint in the Anglican Church with his Feast Day celebrated annually with fasting, prayers and a church service of thanksgiving on 30 January.

Anthony van Dyck, Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson, 1633
Oil on canvas, 219.1 x 134.8 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington. Samuel H Kress Collection, 1952.5.39
Photo © Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

A documentary, Charles I’s Treasures Reunited, will air on BBC Two (United Kingdom), focusing on the stories how Charles I’s motivation in creating such an outstanding art collection, the stories behind the works, and being dismantled by Oliver Cromwell.

Screening dates are to be advised for Australia.

Exhibition Details

Saturday, 27 January to Sunday, 15 April 2018

Opening Hours: Saturday to Thursday 10 am – 6 pm and Friday 10am to 10pm

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