Sometimes, it may be wiser to not have loved and lost, or to have bothered even loving at all…especially in the case of the portraits of King Henry VIII’s wives. Nonetheless, the British royal Collection is a fascinating grouping of as Sir Walter Scott said, ” some fine paintings and some droll ones.” The tourists like the chain of royal portraits of English sovereigns from Henry V to the present day and a host of their friends and relations. But behind the walls on which hang the Rembrandt’s, Van Dyck’s and Gainsborough’s you will still find those droll princes who fascinated Scott: ” ill coloured, orang-outan-looking figures, with black eyes and hook noses, in old fashioned uniforms.

In 1527,Sir Henry Guildford sat for the painter Hans Holbein the Younger, who had just come over to England from Basel. The result confirms the observation that ” Holbein seems to have that purity of style through which a sitter appears to tell his own story, with a clarity that is a distillation of the truth.” Guildford was a man of parts, a friend not only of Henry VIII but of Sir Thomas More, and an acquaintance, or at least a correspondent – of Erasmus. His superb portrait is now in the British royal Collection.

---Sir Henry Guildford, was a great favorite of Henry VIII, ending his career at court as Comptroller of the Royal Household, whose baton of office he holds. He also wears the Order of the Garter, awarded him in 1526. He was a strong proponent of religious reform. He had also accompanied Henry VIII to the Field of the Cloth of Gold.---

“Henry VIII employed the great German portrait painter, Hans Holbein the Younger, and Charles I attracted a range of artists to England, none more important that Van Dyck. Charles I also bought en masse the collection of the Gonzaga family, the Dukes of Mantua. When the painter Rubens visited England in 1629 he was amazed to discover a collection which could bear comparison with those in the courts of Italy, France and Spain. The king’s collection was sold during Cromwell’s Protectorate (1649-59) and only re-acquired piece-meal and in part after the Restoration. During the 18th century Frederick, Prince of Wales and his son George III proved discerning patrons and collectors, the latter acquiring at a stroke the entire collection of the English Consul in Venice and Canaletto’s agent – Joseph Smith”

Hans Holbein the Younger. Erasmus. "Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (sometimes known as Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam) was a Dutch humanist and theologian. His scholarly name Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus comprises the following three elements: the Latin noun desiderium ("longing" or "desire"; the name being a genuine Late Latin name); the Greek adjective (erasmios) meaning "beloved", and, in the form Erasmus, also the name of a saint; and the Latinized adjectival form for the city of Rotterdam (Roterodamus = "of Rotterdam"). Desiderius Erasmus was a fine man who wrote in a "pure" Latin style and enjoyed the title/name "Prince of the Humanists." He has been called "the crowning glory of the Christian humanists." Renaissance humanists were especially learned and interested in the study of ancient languages. Using humanist techniques he prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament which raised questions that would be influential in the Reformation. He also wrote The Praise of Folly, Handbook of a Christian Knight, On Civility in Children, Copia: Foundations of the Abundant Style, and many other works...."

The Queen of England has arguably the finest art collection in the world. Her collection of Leonardo and Michelangelo drawings alone is the largest single gathering of works by these Renaissance masters. Assembled by the Kings and Queens of the British monarchy over 500 years, the Royal Collection consists of more than 200,000 items of fine art, including some 7,000 paintings, 40,000 drawings and watercolours, 150,000 old master prints, sculpture, ceramics and rare illuminated manuscripts, as well as a huge assortment of decorative art, including furniture, clocks, silver, jewellery, and tapestries. The British Royal Art Collection is not owned by the Queen as a private individual: it is held in trust by her as Sovereign for her successors and the Nation.

"In 1784, royal painter Allan Ramsay died and the King was obliged to give the job to Gainsborough's rival and Academy president, Joshua Reynolds, however Gainsborough remained the Royal Family's favorite painter. At his own express wish, he was buried at Saint Anne's Church, Kew, where the Family regularly worshipped." 1781. Queen Charlotte

If the collection has suffered many misfortunes- not the least of them the grievous dispersal of many of its finest treasures after the execution of Charles I- it is still of absorbing interest;  it provides a vivid record of royal diversions, foibles, likes and dislikes over the past half a millennium. Of course, the portraits of royalty are one of the backbones of the collection. Of these some of the most beautiful royal likenesses are by Gainsborough , for whom the royal family seems to have had great affection. In 1781, the artist exhibited at the Royal Academy his full length studies of the King and Queen, which are regarded as the most subtly brilliant English royal portraits since the days of Van Dyck.

Jacques Laurent Agasse. The Nubian Giraffe. 1827 "The giraffe in this painting was one of three giraffes given as gifts by the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt to England's George IV, Charles X of France and Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna. The English giraffe was injured after the long journey from Alexandria and could only stand supported by a pulley. The artist omitted this detail and instead depicted the animal elegantly leaning down to drink milk proffered by two Egyptian keepers standing next to Edward Cross, the proprietor of the London Zoo. In the background of the painting, the cows that supplied the giraffe’s milk on the journey from Egypt can be seen grazing. George's beloved giraffe survived for less than two years and was stuffed by celebrated ornithologist, John Gould."

…”By contrast, Howard Jacobson lets the odd expert stray in front of the cameras where they tend to imitate the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights. His contribution to the highly subjective The Genius of British Art series, aired on Channel 4 last Sunday, focused on Victorian nude painting, with the likes of William Etty, Alma-Tadema, Lord Leighton and other unedifying Victorians on display. I don’t know if this was intentional but the act of retrieving a nude painting from storage had the air of a porn merchant bringing his wares from the back of the shop. In a bid to rescue the Victorian nude from its fate of languishing in obscurity, Howard took us down memory lane (or should that be memory lain) to Manchester Art Gallery.

Etty. Hylas and the Nymphs. "More telling was the treatment of the Etty paintings at York where, apparently, they're not on display. I visited the Gallery recently and was denied that pleasure, which I attributed to refurbishment. Determined to help his artist-hero, Jacobson enlisted the help of a young curator who is campaigning to get Etty's works on display in a climate of complete indifference to this painter. It seems to be having some effect since York is planning a large exhibition of Etty's works between June 2011 and Jan 2012, "the first comprehensive reassessment of his art for more than 50 years." Doubtless Bo

-prize winner and champion of this provincial Titian will be cheering them on! ..."

Subjects such as Hylas and the Nymphs evoked incidents in Howard’s lovelife- a tryst on a boat in some park in some northern city. Halfway through the programme I was treading water. Claims about moral complexity and moral ambiguity in Victorian erotic art aside, most of this art is simply unimaginative and third rate academic tripe. Only a handful of curators would champion this kind of art. I mean, even the Keeper of the Royal Collection seemed non-plussed when asked to comment on some picture in the Queen’s collection.


n 1526, Hans Holbein the Younger, his career in religious painting disrupted by Reformation iconoclasm, traveled from Basel, Switzerland, to London, England, hoping to find employment. With a letter in hand from the humanist scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam, Holbein first approached Sir Thomas More. The artist executed a number of portraits for More and others of standing before returning to the Continent in 1528….

"Four years later, Holbein was back in England. To his previous patrons, he now added the German merchants of London’s Hanseatic League, and in short time, had made his way to the court of Henry VIII, where he worked across a wide range of genres and media, creating backdrops for ephemeral spectacle, designs for metalwork and jewelry, prints, murals, and miniatures, as well as easel portraits. This iconic image of Henry VIII is perhaps the artist’s best-known work today. Ironically, like other existing copies of the portrait, it cannot be firmly tied to the artist’s hand and is possibly a workshop production. All of these images, however, are ultimately based on Holbein’s original prototype, a no longer extant mural in Whitehall Palace created circa 1537."

aWhether it is because the Queen has little interest in buying or whether she has realised funds are limited and improvements need to be made, we understand the adding to the collection is not a primary target. We also have to remember that unlike other collections it is unthinkable for the Queen to bid at auction. The Queen once came close to buying a work through Christies, with the bidders against her being the National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery of Scotland, the Queen then realised she of course had to withdraw as she could not be seen taking a work of public interest into her own private pleasure, it was also suggested that it is not clear, if the bid were to go ahead, which one would have been more embarrassing for Her Majesty, a defeat or a victory.

"The most notable contemporary painting in the collection is perhaps Lucian Freud’s portrait of the Queen. However as far as the perceived wealth and time of the Queen these purchases still seem relatively small. As the Queen does not answer questions about art or the Royal Collection it is hard to gain much insight into her thinking. However, when the previous director of the Royal Collection was asked in 1996 what the situation was with buying new works he replied, “Buying? I’ve added very, very little”, he said,..."

Read More:

The Tribuna of the Uffizi. 1772-77. Johan Zoffany. "One of the most famous art historians of the 20th century is Anthony Blunt (1907-1983). This English art historian is perhaps single-handedly responsible for rescuing French artist Nicolas Poussin from obscurity. Blunt also held the prestigious title of Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures. This position was in essence as a curator of the art collection of the Queen of England, and Blunt was so successful in this job that he was knighted as Knight of the Royal Victorian Order in 1956. Read more at Suite101: Anthony Blunt, Spy From Art History: Cambridge Five, Cambridge Spies During WWII in England

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