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Charles The First’s Love Of The Fine Arts
by [?]

“Last Sunday, at night, the duke’s grace entertained their majesties and the French ambassador at York House with great feasting and show, where all things came down in clouds; amongst which, one rare device was a representation of the French king, and the two queens, with their chiefest attendants, and so to the life, that the queen’s majesty could name them. It was four o’clock in the morning before they parted, and then the king and queen, together with the French ambassador, lodged there. Some estimate this entertainment at five or six thousand pounds.”[189] At another time, “the king and queen were entertained at supper at Gerbier the duke’s painter’s house, which could not stand him in less than a thousand pounds.” Sir Symonds D’Ewes mentions banquets at five hundred pounds. The fullest account I have found of one of these entertainments, which at once show the curiosity of the scenical machinery and the fancy of the poet, the richness Of the crimson habits of the gentlemen, and the white dresses with white heron’s plumes and jewelled head-dresses and ropes of pearls of the ladies, was in a manuscript letter of the times, with which I supplied the editor of “Jonson”, who has preserved the narrative in his memoirs of that poet. “Such were the magnificent entertainments,” says Mr. Gifford, “which, though modern refinement may affect to despise them, modern splendour never reached, even in thought.” That the expenditure was costly, proves that the greater encouragement was offered to artists; nor should Buckingham be censured, as some will incline to, for this lavish expense; it was not unusual for the great nobility then; for the literary Duchess of Newcastle mentions that an entertainment of this sort, which the Duke gave to Charles the First, cost her lord between four and five thousand pounds. The ascetic puritan would indeed abhor these scenes; but their magnificence was also designed to infuse into the national character gentler feelings and more elegant tastes. They charmed even the fiercer republican spirits in their tender youth: Milton owes his Arcades and his delightful Comus to a masque at Ludlow Castle; and Whitelocke, who, was himself an actor and manager, in “a splendid royal masque of the four Inns of Courts joined together” to go to court about the time that Prynne published his Histriomastix, “to manifest the difference of their opinions from Mr. Prynne’s new learning,”–seems, even at a later day, when drawing up his “Memorials of the English Affairs,” and occupied by graver concerns, to have dwelt with all the fondness of reminiscence on the stately shows and masques of his more innocent age; and has devoted, in a chronicle, which contracts many an important event into a single paragraph, six folio columns to a minute and very curious description of “these dreams past, and these vanished pomps.”

Charles the First, indeed, not only possessed a critical tact, but extensive knowledge in the fine arts, and the relics of antiquity. In his flight in 1642, the king stopped at the abode of the religious family of the Farrars at Gidding, who had there raised a singular monastic institution among themselves. One of their favorite amusements had been to form an illustrated Bible, the wonder and the talk of the country. In turning it over, the king would tell his companion the Palsgrave, whose curiosity in prints exceeded his knowledge, the various masters, and the character of their inventions. When Panzani, a secret agent of the Pope, was sent over to England to promote the Catholic cause, the subtle and elegant Catholic Barberini, called the protector of the English at Rome, introduced Panzani to the king’s favour, by making him appear an agent rather for procuring him fine pictures, statues, and curiosities: and the earnest inquiries and orders given by Charles the First prove his perfect knowledge of the most beautiful existing remains of ancient art. “The statues go on prosperously,” says Cardinal Barberini, in a letter to a Mazarin, “nor shall I hesitate to rob Rome of her most valuable ornaments, if in exchange we might be so happy as to have the King of England’s name among those princes who submit to the Apostolic See.” Charles the First was particularly urgent to procure a statue of Adonis in the Villa Ludovisia: every effort was made by the queen’s confessor, Father Philips, and the vigilant cardinal at Rome; but the inexorable Duchess of Fiano would not suffer it to be separated from her rich collection of statues and paintings, even for the chance conversion of a whole kingdom of heretics.”[190]