Issue Number: 94
This rare glimpse of the Queen’s priceless collection of Italian art is a revelation, says Jerry Brotton
Annibale Carracci, Head of a Man in Profile, c.1588–95 A landmark exhibition this spring reveals a little-known fact: the Windsors own one of the finest collections of Old Masters in the world. Presenting masterpieces of Renaissance and baroque Italian art in the Royal Collection, this is the first exhibition for over a generation to show works that have been scattered across the royal residences and never properly seen together. Now 90 paintings and 85 drawings, from Leonardo, Raphael and Titian to Caravaggio, Guido Reni and Annibale Carracci, are on display.
The result is a testament to the extraordinary purchasing power of the Stuart courts of the seventeenth century: first Charles I and his pursuit of Raphaels, Titians and what were then seen as daring baroque pieces coming out of Rome; then Charles II, and his acquisition of drawings by Leonardo and Guido Reni. Some pieces are accompanied by fascinating stories. For example, Agnolo Bronzino’s enigmatic Portrait of a Lady in Green was bought by Charles I from the Dukes of Mantua, sold during the Commonwealth, then acquired by Charles II.
The highlights of the show, although not necessarily the finest paintings, are The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew and A Boy Peeling Fruit, recently attributed to Caravaggio. This exhibition vividly captures how and why the nation’s connoisseur kings collected Italian art; it is a timely moment to show it to the nation.
The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: Renaissance and Baroque, The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace (020 7766 7300), 30 March–20 Jan 2008