Taste of Kings

The Tudor, Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures in the Royal Collection

by Oliver Millar
Phaidon, Volume I (text), 220, Volume II (plates), 226 pp., $21.00

Except for the rapidly dwindling collections of the reigning house of Lichtenstein, the British Royal Collection is the last survivor of one of the great historic categories which fall under what Francis Taylor described in The Taste of Angels. The few remaining crowned heads of Europe own, as their private property, a handful of old masters and a number of depressing portraits; but the other great royal collections—those of the Bourbons, the Hapsburgs, the Hohenzollerns, and the Italian principalities—have all been either nationalized or dispersed. For this reason they are a good deal better known than the British Royal Collection. They have been fully catalogued and published and many of their early inventories are available in print. By a certain irony the only inventory of the British Royal Collection which has been properly published (and that only in 1960, and also by Mr. Millar) is the catalog of the collection of Charles I, which, in 1649, was the first royal collection to be nationalized—but only to be sold. The great masterpieces of Charles I’s collection (except for the Mantegna and Raphael cartoons) eventually entered other European royal collections and only the lower part of the barrel was recovered at the Restoration in 1660. The British Royal Collection is thus not as remarkable as it would have been if this regrettable incident had not occurred in the middle of the seventeenth century: but it is very rich indeed, in spite of that.

The present book is the first of six volumes which will cover for the first time in print the entire holding in pictures (but apparently only of those executed before the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837) of the British “Royal Collection,” a collective concept which may never have been closely defined, but excludes such works of art as may be the private property of the Sovereign.

The principal locations of these pictures are Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Palace, Hampton Court, the Palaces of Kensington and Kew, and Holyroodhouse at Edinburgh. A good deal of movement of the pictures between one and the other has taken place in the past and takes place today, but they are all listed in this book regardless of location. The only one of these buildings to which the public has ready access is Hampton Court, which has always been something of a dumping ground for pictures that are not wanted for royal living rooms or purposes of state; and useful catalogs of the pictures at Hampton Court have been available for a century. The State Rooms at Windsor and Kensington and Holyroodhouse are also accessible under conditions that make close scutiny of works of art impossible. A catalog of the more important pictures at Windsor was published in 1937 in a rather plushy edition of 750 copies. Since 1961 the new Gallery attached to Buckingham Palace has for the first time made available small periodical selections of other pictures in the collection, but by and …

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