Laughing Child (c.1498)
The British Royal Collection
Terracotta Sculpture of Henry VIII
By Guido Mazzoni (1450-1518).
The Royal Art Collection
One of the
World's Great Collections
BEST ART MUSEUMS IN BRITAIN
See: Art Museums in America.
HOW TO APPRECIATE
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.
It is curated and managed by the Royal Collection department, one of several administrative sections within the Royal Household, and financed exclusively by the Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity, under the chairmanship of The Prince of Wales.
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Works of art from the collection are on public display in various locations, such as The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace; Clarence House; Hampton Court Palace; Windsor Castle; Frogmore House; and The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse. Other works are shown in a number of temporary exhibitions both in the UK, and abroad.
Some 3,000 items from the Royal Collection are on long-term loan to museums, galleries and other institutions, including The British Museum, National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of London, the National Museum of Wales, the National Gallery of Scotland, and others.
Although a number of artworks survive from the era of King Henry VIII, and before, most of the Royal Collection took shape from the mid-17th century onwards. Members of the British Monarchy who did most of the collecting included Charles I, Charles II, George III, George IV, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Charles I (1600-1649) acquired large numbers of Italian paintings and drawings by masters like Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Tintoretto, Titian, Correggio, Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni and Orazio Gentileschi, as well as sculptures by Giambologna. Charles was also a keen patron of the Flemish portraitist Anthony Van Dyck. Charles II (1630-1685) added works by Giorgione, Holbein, Lucas Cranach, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and 600 drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.
George III (1738-1820) in addition to buying Buckingham House (later, Palace), one of the finest houses in London, purchased the famous art collection owned by the British consul in Venice, Joseph Smith. This added to the Royal Collection a superb series of Venetian paintings by Canaletto, as well as earlier Italian works by Giovanni Bellini, drawings by Raphael, and a masterpiece by Vermeer. George III also added portraits by contemporary painters such as Allan Ramsay, Benjamin West, Johann Zoffany, Thomas Gainsborough, John Hoppner, John Singleton Copley and Sir William Beechey. Decorative arts commissioned by George III from British manufacturers included mahogany furniture by Vile and Cobb, Bradburn, and France and Beckwith (but not, curiously, by Thomas Chippendale, who never gained a royal warrant), silver by Heming, porcelain from Chelsea (The "Mecklenburg" dinner and desert service, 1763), Derby, Wedgwood and Worcester, as well as a wide range of manuscripts, fine gems, coins and medals.
George IV (1762-1830) acquired a number of fine items, including the Sobieski Book of Hours, an exquisite illuminated manuscript from 1420-5; the 17th-century Florilegium of Alexander Marshal, including his 159 watercolours; and several magnificent Islamic texts, such as the Divan-i-Khaqan written by the Persian ruler Fath Ali Shah. In addition, he bought several masterpieces by Rubens and by Rembrandt, including the dazzling portrait of Agatha Bas and The Shipbuilder and his Wife. He was also a generous patron of British contemporary artists including George Stubbs, Ben Marshall, Sawrey Gilpin and George Garrard, as well as the portraitists Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Lawrence. George IV also collected more intimate works by British genre painters like David Wilkie and Edward Bird, and the Irish artist William Mulready.
Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and Prince Albert (1819-1861) added significantly to the British Royal Art Collection: their largest acquisition being the Ottingen Wallerstein collection of early Italian, German and Flemish pictures. Victoria was also well placed to acquire decorative art. As Queen of the most powerful empire in the world, she was in receipt of a never-ending stream of gifts from foreign rulers, embracing jewellery, tapestries, metalwork and porcelain. From India she acquired the celebrated Koh-i-Nor, the Timur Ruby and the Lahore Diamond, Ranjit Singh's emeralds and many other such stones from donors wishing to strengthen their relationship with the British Crown. At the 1842 sale of Horace Walpole's famous collection from Strawberry Hill, Victoria purchased the celebrated Anne Boleyn clock. Later, Victoria bought a number of Tudor and Stuart miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard and Isaac Oliver, along with a fine group of watercolours by Paul Sandby. She also commissioned numerous portraits and animal paintings from Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-73), best known for his portraits of dogs.
The British Royal Collection includes some 7,000 paintings, one of the most significant holdings in the world. Displayed throughout the royal residences and palaces, some of the most important works hang in Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Hampton Court Palace. Collection highlights include works by European Old Masters and an outstanding collection of British portrait art.
One of the earliest works is by Duccio di Buoninsegna, while later Renaissance masterpieces include Andrea Mantegna's Triumphs of Caesar at Hampton Court Palace, and the Raphael Tapestry Cartoons - currently on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Collection also features religious paintings by Fra Angelico, Gentile da Fabriano, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Correggio, Parmigianino, and Lorenzo Lotto. Mannerism is exemplified by the Venetians Jacopo Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, and the painter/writer Giorgio Vasari.
Baroque art is represented by Caravaggio, Rubens and Van Dyck, while the Dutch Realism school is exemplified by portraitists Frans Hals and Rembrandt, genre painters Jan Vermeer, Jan Steen, and David Teniers, and the landscape artists Aelbert Cuyp, Meyndert Hobbema, and Salomon van Ruysdael, among others. There are 50 works by Canaletto, the greatest of all Venetian vedutisti.
The unrivalled collection of British portraiture dates from Hans Holbein in the 16th century to the contemporary artist Lucian Freud. It features some of the greatest portrait paintings by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Sir Godfrey Kneller, William Hogarth, the Scottish master Allan Ramsay, the great Joshua Reynolds, Johann Zoffany, Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Peter Lely, Thomas Lawrence, Franz Xaver Winterhalter and Von Angeli. Also, a number of equestrian paintings by George Stubbs.
See also our short essay on art appreciation: How To Appreciate Paintings.
Among the 3,000 works of miniature portrait painting in the British Royal Collection are works by England's best miniaturists including Francois Clouet, Nicholas Hilliard, Isaac Oliver, Samuel Cooper, Richard Cosway, Jeremiah Meyer, Robert Thuburn and Sir William Ross.
The British Royal Collection has about 1,400 pieces of sculpture, dating from the late 15th century onwards. Highlights include Laughing Child a painted terracotta bust of a 7-year old Henry VIII by the Modenese sculptor Guido Mazzoni, three bronze busts by Leone Leoni, a rare bronze by Benvenuto Cellini, and a series of outstanding marbles and bronzes by sculptors such as Francois Girardon, Antoine Coysevox, Antonio Canova, and Philippe Bertrand. British sculptors represented include Joseph Nollekens and Sir Francis Chantrey, John Gibson, Richard James Wyatt, Lawrence Macdonald, William Theed the Younger, and the sculptor/goldsmith Sir Alfred Gilbert. Gilbert's master work, the tomb of the Duke of Clarence, is in the Albert Memorial Chapel at Windsor Castle.
The British Royal Collection has about 40,000 drawings and watercolours, and 150,000 prints. It is extremely strong in Old Master drawings, particularly by Italian artists, and Victorian watercolour paintings. Most of the British Royal Collection's drawings, watercolours and prints are housed in the Print Room at Windsor Castle, which was largely organized by Prince Albert in the 1850s. Amassed over the last five centuries, the collection was shaped by three British monarchs: Charles II, George III and Prince Albert.
Probably the most celebrated and valuable works are the 600 drawings by Leonardo da Vinci (featuring studies of anatomy, landscape, water and natural history) and the 80 portrait drawings by Hans Holbein the Younger. Other Renaissance gems include important groups by Raphael and Michelangelo.
Italian Baroque art is represented by the Roman and especially by the Bolognese school, with drawings by Annibale and Ludovico Carracci, Domenichino, Bernini, Castiglione and the world's largest assembly of works by the Italian Baroque artist Guercino (1591-1666). The collection also has most of Cassiano dal Pozzo's encyclopedic "Paper Museum". Seventeenth and eighteenth century draughtsmanship is exemplified by the Frenchmen Nicolas Poussin and Lorrain Claude; the Venetians Piazzetta, Canaletto, and Marco Ricci; and the English artists Paul and Thomas Sandby and William Hogarth. The large collection of 19th-century watercolours relate mostly to the Victoria era.
Highlights of the print collection include the Raphael Collection (some 5,500 prints and photographs of every known work by Raphael), as well as etchings and engravings by Albrecht Durer, Wenceslaus Hollar, Stefano della Bella, Israel Silvestre, Jacques Callot, and Thomas Rowlandson, among many others.
The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace
The Drawings Gallery, Windsor Castle
Hampton Court Palace
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Queen's Gallery at the Palace of
For more about famous art-buyers
and their collections, see: Art Collectors.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART