The King's Pictures
Church Times Bookshop £27 (Use code CT639
PROFESSOR Francis Haskell was invited to give the inaugural
series of Paul Mellon Lectures in 1994. He chose to look at the
assembling and subsequent dispersal of the collections of Charles
I. At his death in January 2000, his lectures remained
In a handsomely illustrated volume that Yale has, with a
generous subsidy, brought out for a mere £30, these six lectures,
discreetly edited by Karen Serres, focus on the range of collecting
at the early Stuart Court.
Much of the material expands what we already knew from the
indefatigable work of Sir Oliver Millar, the late Keeper of the
Queen's Pictures, and from Arthur MacGregor (1989); but Haskell
takes the story further forward to show how the whole European
experience of art changed when the King's collection was sold off
by Oliver Cromwell and the regicides.
The first two lectures look at the collectors and collections
being amassed in London alongside the royal collection. Charles,
Prince of Wales, and King from 1625, was not alone in affecting a
taste for European art, and amassed his collection alongside the
likes of his cousin the Duke of Hamilton (1606-1649); his favourite
George Villiers, whose own collecting was cut short by an
assassin's knife in 1628; the Earl of Arundel, and others. Some of
his agents emerge as dealers and collectors in their own right.
Oddly, Haskell makes no mention of the ambassador Sir Dudley
Carleton, who, Robert Hill has shown, made use of his time in
Venice and then at the Hague to establish a remarkable collection
in much the same period, bringing Dutch painters such as van
Miereveldt and van Honthorst to the attention of English
Whether such a collection as the King's was intended to be seen
more widely is still much debated; it was never published, and we
have only the word of Giovanni Sagrado, the Venetian ambassador at
the time of "the sale of the late king's goods", to suggest that
Parliament sold off the collection cheaply to broaden the
responsibility of those who would feel the guilt of complicity as
and when the experiment of the English Republic failed.
Haskell's inimitable voice is heard on every page, and the
lavish illustrations from collections across Europe make the point
that, although some of the works were returned to the Crown after
the Restoration, many are still to be found across Europe.
The Revd Dr Nicholas Cranfield is the Vicar of All Saints',
Blackheath, in south London.