The Sale of the Late King's Goods: Charles I and his Art Collection Paperback – Unabridged, 6 Apr 2007
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‘Brotton has taken on a cracking good story, confidently snaking through the complicated politics of seventeenth-century European art-dealership, from Venice and the Low Countries to the Escorial and back into the side-streets of turbulent London and the thousand-odd rooms of Whitehall Palace. He beds this vast mass of convoluted activity with its great cast of characters from de Critz to Van Dyck – its rivalries, frauds, enthusiasms, bankruptcies, brinkmanship and U-turns – deeply into the political, social and artistic context of the time. This is no pillow book: that Brotton maintains his authorial grip on both the grand sweep and the elaborate detail while controlling the drive of his multi-layered narrative is a superb achievement’ Kate Colquhoun, Daily Telegraph
‘Provocative…admirably researched and compellingly narrated’ Miranda Seymour, Sunday Times
‘Jerry Brotton, a young historian with an enviable command of the secondary literature, both historical and art-historical, and a good understanding of the way objects and works of art assume ideological significance, has told the amazing story of Charles I’s collection and its subsequent sale in full’ Charles Saumarez Smith, Literary Review
‘Jerry Brotton holds a magnifying glass to the amassing of the royal collection and its later dispersal…bustles with fascinating detail’ History Today
‘Admirable’ The Times
‘Magnificent’ Daily Express
Shortlisted for the 2006 Samuel Johnson Prize, the critically acclaimed and dazzling account of the sale of Charles I's art collectionSee all Product description
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Charles clearly let his heart rule his head in art, as in so much else. This is no more clearly evidenced than in his purchase of the Mantua collection for a colossal sum of £18,000. But by acquiring this collection Charles placed himself at the heart of Europe's royal collectors.
The detailed and fascinating account of the acquisition of his artwork takes up a good half of the book with the remainder given over to the sale of his artwork, and, under the Restoration, the retrieval of the majority of the collection back into the royal household of his son, Charles II.
The differing attitudes towards and personal tastes of the two monarchs is identified and discussed.
Throughout the book is interwoven a general biography of Charles and Cromwell and a quick account of the Civil Wars.
This is a fascinating account of the importance of art in forming a royal household and making the mark of a monarch, together with the prosaic way in which it was purchased, sold and transported.
There are numerous good quality colour plates in three seperate sections.
A must read that will appeal to many tastes.
In the 18th and 19th century the sale of Charles I's artworks was regarded as a cultural catastrophe. A priceless collection built by a refined and sophisticated monarch was lost to the nation by a philistine puritan regime. Jerry Brotton takes a less cataclysmic view. He points out that whilst a number of important works did finish up in French or Spanish hands, the collection of Charles II after his loyal subjects returned the late King's goods was both quantitatively and qualitatively comparable to Charles I's collection. Ironically, many of the works that were never returned are now on view in European galleries and are therefore easier to see than paintings returned to the Royal Collection.
The details of the negotiations and the character assessment of the minor players make this book so readable. The author is not afraid to offer a personal opinion on the people and events. Few of the players emerge with any credit. Charles I buys paintings with money he doesn't have and ruins his agent by failing to pay on time. European monarchs secretly attempt to buy choice items from Charles' collection whilst publically condemning the actions of the regime which is selling them. Unscrupulous individuals line their pockets at the expense of the late King's creditors. But some of these same creditors are far from honest in their claims for compensation.
The character and actions of the individuals involved are sufficiently contradictory that even Brotton has some difficulty deciding where to apportion blame. For example, he criticises aspects of the sale for selling works at below their value on the open market, despite having spent much of the book establishing that there was no open market in art in the first half of the 17th century. However, he later says that market prices after the restoration exploded "the assumption by many art historians that the English collection was sold too cheaply under the Commonwealth".
Brotton concludes that the public sale by the Cromwellian regime helped to establish London as a major centre for the sale of art works and helped demystify the valuation of art. However he himself wanders into unnecessary mystification. He asserts at one point that the open sale of paintings of the King would not have happened before the Commonwealth's great sale, forgetting that the aristocracy and rich merchants had been buying paintings of the reigning monarch since at least the time of Henry VIII.
This book is stimulating, despite occasional questionable assertions or attitudes; it is a thoroughly good read and would be a worthwhile addition to the library of anyone interested in the history of art.