Charles I's art collection and the connection to Petworth
King Charles I (1600-1649) amassed one of the most extraordinary art collections of his age, acquiring works by some of the finest artists of the past – Titian, Mantegna, Holbein, Dürer – and commissioning leading contemporary artists such as Van Dyck and Rubens. For the first time since the 17th century, a landmark exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts will bring together these exceptional pieces. But did you know that Petworth House also has a collection of paintings that may have also have started out in the collection of Charles I?
The Royal Collection comprised mainly Dutch, Flemish and Italian Renaissane paintings, growing in size following the acquisition of the Gonzaga holdings from Mantua in 1628 and augmented by commissions from living artsts includng Rubens and his pupil Van Dyck.
Charles very much favoured Titian, who he felt had refined “a style combining sensuousness and elegance that, because it could nourish the genius of later generations of artists, never ran the risk of appearing old-fashioned. How the works were hung at Whitehall is only known through hearsay. However the equestrian portrait of Charles I on Horseback with M. de St Antoine (1633, Royal Collection) is known to have taken pride of place at the end of the King's Gallery at St James’ Palace.
Art connoisseurs, collectors, and patrons closely associated with Charles I also began to acquire their own masterpieces, becoming known as the Whitehall Circle. This group included Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, who was eputed to have paid for several of the works in the King's collection due to a lack of funds available to the Crown.
The Dispersal of the Royal Collection 1642 - 1649
This volatile period of history was torn apart by Civil War, those supporting the King (Royalists) and those supporting the right of Parliament (Parliamentarians) describes the war in a very simplistic way. By and large those from an aristocratic background were Royalists, but it was not always as clear-cut as that. Allegiances were often changed several times but finally national liberation under Parliament won the day and certainly once the King had been executed in 1649 England became overwhelmed with a religious element, almost to the point of fanaticism.
In June 1649, Parliament passed an Act for the Sale of the King's Goods. His collection became a target for the Puritans and under Cromwell many pieces of art were sold to raise funds for the Navy, or destroyed if they were considered irrelgious. After the war the Council of State began a systematic dispersal of the paintings to pay off the huge outstanding debts that had been accumulated by the King.
David Teniers the Younger was appointed as court painter to the great collector and patron, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, Governor of the Spanish netherlands, in 1651. Teniers was instrumental in acquiring some 400 paintings from the Duke of Hamilton's collection, together with four of Charles' masterpieces, all of which enriched the archducal collection.
The Petworth Connection
The collection of Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland (1602-1668) is the only one remaining in Britain of those formed by the members of the court of Charles I, albeit depleted, and now divided between the houses of the two successive branches of the family, the Earls of Egremont and the Dukes of Northumberland. Much of it was assembled in the troubled times of the Civil War and Commonwealth, when, as one of the few magnates on the Parliamentary side, he was in a position to acquire, when most of his peers were being forced to sell.
This canvas by Van Dyck depcits two Royalist Generals, Lord George Goring and Mountjoy Blount, 1st Earl of Newport and it was purchased by the 10th Earl from Newport's estate following his disgrace in the aftermath of the English Civil War is a prime example.
In 1647, the 10th Earl of Northumberland commissioned Peter Lely to paint The Three Younger Children of Charles I as a gift for the King, whose children had been placed in the Earl's custody at Syon House. Following the King's execution, it's likely it was given as a gift by Parliament to the Earl, and it now hangs in the Somerset Room.
Perhaps the biggest prize that the Earl of Northumberland gained from the Whitehall Circle collection was a set of small religiou scenes in oil on silvered copper of eight Saints and Prophets by Adam Elsheimer, dating from 1605. They were purchased by the 10th Earl in 1645 from the collection of the Duke of Buckingham, a prominent member of the circle. Following the execution of Charles I, Buckingham's son, a minor, managed to prevent the sale or desruction of these 'superstitious' images and was able to instead ship sixteen chests of pictures to the Low Countries to pay off his own debt supporting the Royalist cause.
This oil on panel was possibly acquired by the 10th Earl from the Dke of Buckingham's collection at York House, where it was referred to as 'a rare Prospective done by Stenwick, the Figures by Pullenburke' in payment of a £360 debt. 'Pillenburke' refers to Cornelis van Poelenburgh (1594-1667), a dutch landscape painter.
The relationship appears to have been a purely intellectual one, but it attracted scandalous gossip at the time. It’s likely that following his execution the portrait of Lady Carlisle returned to her and as the sister of the 10th Earl it was then bequeathed to him, thus entering the Petworth collection.