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

A Saxon king’s mace used in war, with a ball full of spikes, and the handle covered with gold plates, and enamelled, sold for L37 8s.

A gorget of massy gold, chased with the manner of a battle, weighing thirty-one ounces, at L3 10s. per ounce, was sent to the Mint.

A Roman shield of buff leather, covered with a plate of gold, finely chased with a Gorgon’s head, set round the rim with rubies, emeralds, turquoise stones, in number 137, L132 12s.

The pictures, taken from Whitehall, Windsor, Wimbledon, Greenwich, Hampton-Court, etc., exhibit, in number, an unparalleled collection. By what standard they were valued, it would perhaps be difficult to conjecture; from L50 to L100 seems to have been the limits of the appraiser’s taste and imagination. Some whose price is whimsically low may have been thus rated from a political feeling respecting the portrait of the person; there are, however, in this singular appraised catalogue two pictures, which were rated at, and sold for, the remarkable sums of one and of two thousand pounds. The one was a sleeping Venus by Correggio, and the other a Madonna by Raphael. There was also a picture by Julio Romano, called “The great piece of the Nativity,” at L500. “The little Madonna and Christ,” by Raphael, at L800. “The great Venus and Parde,” by Titian, at L600. These seem to have been the only pictures, in this immense collection, which reached a picture’s prices. The inventory-writer had, probably, been instructed by the public voice of their value; which, however, would, in the present day, be considered much under a fourth. Rubens’ “Woman taken in Adultery,” described as a large picture, sold for L20; and his “Peace and Plenty, with many figures big as the life,” for L100. Titian’s pictures seem generally valued at L100.[194] “Venus dressed by the Graces,” by Guido, reached to L200.

The Cartoons of Raphael, here called “The Acts of the Apostles,” notwithstanding their subject was so congenial to the popular feelings, and only appraised at L300, could find no purchaser![195]

The following full-lengths of celebrated personages were rated at these whimsical prices:

Queen Elizabeth in her parliament robes, valued L1.

The Queen-mother in mourning habit, valued L3.

Buchanan’s picture, valued L3 10s.

The King, when a youth in coats, valued L2.

The picture of the Queen when she was with child, sold for five shillings.

King Charles on horseback, by Sir Anthony Vandyke, was purchased by Sir Balthazar Gerbier, at the appraised price of L200.[196]

The greatest sums were produced by the tapestry and arras hangings, which were chiefly purchased for the service of the Protector. Their amount exceeds L30,000. I note a few.

At Hampton-Court, ten pieces of arras hangings of Abraham, containing 826 yards at L10 a yard, L8260.

Ten pieces of Julius Caesar, 717 ells at L7, L5019.[197]

One of the cloth of estates is thus described:

“One rich cloth of estate of purple velvet, embroidered with gold, having the arms of England within a garter, with all the furniture suitable thereunto. The state containing these stones following: two cameos or agates, twelve chrysolites, twelve ballases or garnets, one sapphire seated in chases of gold, one long pearl pendant, and many large and small pearls, valued at L500 sold for L602 10s. to Mr. Oliver, 4 February, 1649.”

Was plain Mr. Oliver, in 1649, who we see was one of the earlier purchasers, shortly after “the Lord Protector?” All the “cloth of estate” and “arras hangings” were afterwards purchased for the service of the Protector; and one may venture to conjecture, that when Mr. Oliver purchased this “rich cloth of estate,” it was not without a latent motive of its service to the new owner.[198]

There is one circumstance remarkable in the feeling of Charles the First for the fine arts: it was a passion without ostentation or egotism; for although this monarch was inclined himself to participate in the pleasures of a creating artist, the king having handled the pencil and composed a poem, yet he never suffered his private dispositions to prevail over his more majestic duties. We do not discover in history that Charles the First was a painter and a poet. Accident and secret history only reveal this softening feature in his grave and king-like character. Charles sought no glory from, but only indulged his love for, art and the artists. There are three manuscripts on his art, by Leonardo da Vinci, in the Ambrosian library, which bear an inscription that a King of England, in 1639, offered one thousand guineas of gold for each. Charles, too, suggested to the two great painters of his age the subjects he considered worthy of their pencils; and had for his “closet-companions” those native poets for which he was censured in “evil times,” and even by Milton!