Beheading, Monarchy And Power: Art Gets The Royal Treatment

Charles II: Art & Power, Queen's Gallery ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 11 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

Beheading, Monarchy And Power: Art Gets The Royal Treatment Charles II: Art & Power, Queen's Gallery 3
Nothing says monarchy is power more than a massive portrait of oneself. Royal Collection Trust/(c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Your father, the King of England, has been publicly executed and replaced with a Parliament; the divine rule of Kings is broken. Any dreams of being a future King are shattered but it just so happens that after 14 years in exile you find yourself back on the throne. What to do?

Granted this isn't a situation we, or even Prince William, are likely to find ourselves in, but this is the question that was faced by Charles II, and part of the solution is on display in the Queen's Gallery's current exhibition.

There is a lot of bling here - this is a spice box with drawers to contain spices. Royal Collection Trust/(c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The Parliamentarians wanted to get rid of anything tied to the monarchy so they sold off a lot of the art and melted down the crown jewels. Knowing this, one of the acts of Charles II was to create a new crown jewels that were even more extravagant then the last set. They are on display here, and are so ornate that the gold is blinding — we do like a bit of bling here at Londonist.

Titian's madonna with child is part of the collection. Royal Collection Trust/(c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Art was seen as one of the most potent status symbols, so efforts were made to recover the collection of Charles I and to obtain new work where possible. One excellent work Charles II had acquired while in exile in the Netherlands was the massacre of the innocents by Bruegel — soldiers arrive at a wintry village to kill all children under two in the hopes of killing the infant Christ. Bruegel has changed the setting to reflect the conflict of his time, so the victims are Flemish and the soldiers Spanish instead of Roman.  

Tapestries complement the paintings and are even bigger in size. This one includes a birth taking place. Royal Collection Trust/(c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

A beautiful painting of the Madonna and child by Titian was part of a gift from the Dutch as a means to persuade Charles II to not side with their enemy, and Charles' cousin, Louis XIV of France. Art sounds like the perfect negotiation tool — maybe they should try throwing it into the Brexit discussions.

Nothing beats a good society portrait to let the peasants know their place. Royal Collection Trust/(c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

We're not a fan of society paintings filled with rich folk in fine clothing looking down at us paupers, but here it's a perfect fit as that was their intention. A large room is filled with larger than life portraits with a seated King Charles II at one end commanding over all and letting us citizens know our place. This show is a prime example of why Republicans have always wanted to do away with a monarchy, yet perversely the extravagance is also why Royalists love the rule of kings and queens so much.

There is also fantastic furniture, drawings and massive tapestries to gaze in awe at. Forget Harry and Meghan's wedding, this is what royal splendour really looks like. Charles II will take some beating.

Charles II: Art & Power at Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace. until 13 May 2018. Tickets are £11 for adults.

Last Updated 10 January 2018