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

This monarch, who possessed “four-and-twenty palaces, all of them elegantly and completely furnished,” had formed very considerable collections. “The value of pictures had doubled in Europe, by the emulation between our Charles and Philip the Fourth of Spain, who was touched with the same elegant passion.” When the rulers of fanaticism began their reign, “all the king’s furniture was put to sale; his pictures, disposed of at very low prices, enriched all the collections in Europe; the cartoons when complete were only appraised at L300, though the whole collection of the king’s curiosities were sold at above L50,000.[191] Hume adds, “the very library and medals at St. James’s were intended by the generals to be brought to auction, in order to pay the arrears of some regiments of cavalry; but Selden, apprehensive of this loss, engaged his friend Whitelocke, then lord-keeper of the Commonwealth, to apply for the office of librarian. This contrivance saved that valuable collection.” This account is only partly correct: the love of books, which formed the passion of the two learned scholars whom Hume notices, fortunately intervened to save the royal collection from the intended scattering; but the pictures and medals were, perhaps, objects too slight in the eyes of the book-learned; they wore resigned to the singular fate of appraisement. After the Restoration very many books were missing; but scarcely a third part of the medals remained: of the strange manner in which these precious remains of ancient art and history were valued and disposed of, the following account may not be read without interest.

In March, 1648, the parliament ordered commissioners to be appointed, to inventory the goods and personal estate of the late king, queen, and prince, and appraise them for the use of the public. And in April, 1648, an act, adds Whitelocke, was committed for inventorying the late king’s goods, etc.[192]

This very inventory I have examined. It forms a magnificent folio, of near a thousand pages, of an extraordinary dimension, bound in crimson velvet, and richly gilt, written in a fair large hand, but with little knowledge of the objects which the inventory writer describes. It is entitled “An Inventory of the Goods, Jewels, Plate, etc. belonging to King Charles the First, sold by order of the Council of State, from the year 1619 to 1652.” So that from the decapitation of the king, a year was allowed to draw up the inventory; and the sale proceeded during three years.

From this manuscript catalogue[193] to give long extracts were useless; it has afforded, however, some remarkable observations. Every article was appraised, nothing was sold under the affixed price, but a slight competition sometimes seems to have raised the sum; and when the Council of State could not get the sum appraised, the gold and silver were sent to the Mint; and assuredly many fine works of art were valued by the ounce. The names of the purchasers appear; they are usually English, but probably many were the agents for foreign courts. The coins or medals were thrown promiscuously into drawers; one drawer having twenty-four medals, was valued at L2 10s.; another of twenty, at L1; another of twenty-four, at L1; and one drawer, containing forty-six silver coins with the box, was sold for L5. On the whole the medals seem not to have been valued at much more than a shilling a-piece. The appraiser was certainly no antiquary.

The king’s curiosities in the Tower Jewel-house generally fetched above the price fixed; the toys of art could please the unlettered minds that had no conception of its works.

The Temple of Jerusalem, made of ebony and amber, fetched L25.

A fountain of silver, for perfumed waters, artificially made to play of itself, sold for L30.

A chess-board, said to be Queen Elizabeth’s, inlaid with gold, silver, and pearls, L23.

A conjuring drum from Lapland, with an almanac cut on a piece of wood.

Several sections in silver of a Turkish galley, a Venetian gondola, an Indian canoe, and a first-rate man-of-war.