The Queen’s Gallery presents Charles II: Art & Power, an exhibition which explores how the court of Charles II became the centre for the patronage of leading artists and built up a collection of great works of art. After the death of Charles I and the decade of austere Cromwellian rule, the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 led to a resurgence of interest in art and the court of Charles II began to use art as a way of glorifying and justifying the position of Charles II as the head of the monarchy.
In the exhibition, John Michael Wright’s monumental portrait of Charles II in his coronation robes illustrates that the King is part of a royal line of distinction and various symbols indicate his wisdom and majesty.
The early part of the exhibition looks at the return of ceremony, the restoration of the monarchy led to an urgent need to replenish the silver plate used for a number of objects. Some of this new plate is on display including objects for the royal chapels and for the king’s coronation, the magnificent silver gilt maces and altar dishes were part of a dazzling display in Westminster Abbey.
Also in the exhibition is a salt tower which is the only surviving work of the Hamburg goldsmith Johann Hass. The salt was presented to Charles II for his coronation by the Parliamentarian stronghold of Exeter possibly to atone for their lack of support for the monarchy in the Civil War.
After the coronation, Charles II began to introduce spectacular furnishings at the palaces of Whitehall, St James’s and Windsor. The exhibition has a range of spectacular tapestries and silver-gilt furniture that began to adorn the court of Charles II.
Members of the court especially the ladies were the subject of prints that became increasingly popular during the reign of Charles II, the portraits of Peter Lely’s of the court which are in the exhibition were reproduced in print form in large numbers.
Charles I had accumulated a vast collection of art which was either sold or stolen after he died. However laws were passed after the restoration that items from the collection should be returned and a surprising number did resurface and were added to Charles II’s now extensive collection. Like his father, Charles I favoured the old masters like Titian and Veronese over Northern European painting, a notable exception in the exhibition is Bruegel’s Massacre of the Innocents. The exhibition also features a series of remarkable drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and Han Holbein.
This fascinating exhibition examines the creation of a new royal court after the restoration of the monarchy. In many respects it was ‘business as usual’ with large amounts of money lavished on replenishing the trappings of power. However, the fate of his father Charles I did mean that Charles II could not take the ‘people’ for granted and favourable portraits were produced for adorning the walls of the palaces and for the growing print trade. As the exhibition suggests, art was used on a number of levels to create a mystique about the monarchy and to portray the English court as the cultural equal of other European royal courts.
Video Review available here
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information or book tickets, visit the Royal Collection website here
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