LONDON – London’s Royal Academy of Arts unveiled on Tuesday a landmark exhibition that for the first time in centuries brings together the private collection of King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland, which was dispersed when social discontent led to civil war, the execution of the king, the abolition of the monarch and the creation of a republic.
As seen in images provided by epa, the “Charles I: King and Collector” exhibition features masterpieces by towering Renaissance maestros such as Albrecht Dürer, Titian, Hans Holbein the Younger or Andrea Mantegna which were sold off and scattered across Europe after the hapless monarch was beheaded in 1649 for high treason following two disastrous civil wars.
The exhibit will “reunite the greatest masterpieces of this magnificent collection for the first time,” the RA said in a statement. “Celebrating its breadth and grandeur, we will include over 100 works of art, ranging from classical sculptures to Baroque paintings, and from exquisite miniatures to monumental tapestries.”
“In showing these works together, the exhibition will demonstrate the radical impact they had at the time and shed light on how they fostered a vibrant visual culture that was hitherto unknown in England,” the venerable art institution’s statement added.
Photographs captured by an epa shooter showed visitors admiring a sumptuous oil portrait commissioned by the King to his Flemish court painter Anton van Dyck, one of the most prominent artists of the early 17th century along with Paul Peter Rubens, whose splendid “Minerva Protects Pax from Mars” was loaned by Madrid’s Prado museum for the display.
King Charles’ reign was marred by religious tensions and the eventual war between his supporters and those of the parliaments of England and Scotland, who attempted to curtail his royal prerogative and saw him as a tyrant.
He lost his head after Oliver Cromwell’s forces took control over most of England, ushering in the short-lived Commonwealth era.
One of the first acts of Cromwell as the new Lord Protector of the Commonwealth was to sell the decollated monarch’s art collection – estimated to have contained at least 1,500 paintings and 500 sculptures – to pay his troops and reimburse the debt incurred during the costly war.
The Crown Jewels, including a medieval crown, scepter and orb were also sold off and melted down.
Once the monarchy was effectively restored in 1660 with Charles II regaining his father’s throne, some of the artworks made their way back to London. But others were lost forever or have found permanent homes in today’s Prado (which lent five paintings to the RA’s exhibit) or the Louvre (three).
Most of the works featured, however, come from the Royal Collection.
Visitors will be able to admire them at the RA’s headquarters in Burlington House on Piccadilly starting on Jan. 27 until April 15.