The Royal Collection is the art collection of the British Royal Family and one of the largest and most important art collections in the world, spanning over 500 years of history. Discover stories behind some of the paintings that can be viewed in the royal palaces.
The Nubian Giraffe by Jacques-Laurent Agasse
The giraffe in this painting was one of three giraffes given as gifts by the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt to England’s George IV, Charles X of France and Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna. The English giraffe was injured after the long journey from Alexandria and could only stand supported by a pulley. The artist omitted this detail and instead depicted the animal elegantly leaning down to drink milk proffered by two Egyptian keepers standing next to Edward Cross, the proprietor of the London Zoo. In the background of the painting, the cows that supplied the giraffe’s milk on the journey from Egypt can be seen grazing. George’s beloved giraffe survived for less than two years and was stuffed by celebrated ornithologist, John Gould.
Most likely acquired in the late 17th century by Charles II, the Royal Collection has around 600 drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. Although a celebrated artist in his time for his paintings, he was not yet known for his scientific and engineering exploits, which were recorded in his notebooks and in thousands of drawings. Leonardo was particularly interested in understanding the phenomena of nature, as it related to painting. Anatomy, both human and animal, botany and the movement of water are just a few of the subjects that da Vinci explored in his sketches.
The Maharaja Dalip Singh by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Dalip Singh was the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab region of India. He was only five years old when he inherited the throne and when the British crown claimed his kingdom in 1846, Singh relinquished his title and property, converted to Christianity and surrendered the famous Koh-i-nûr diamond to Queen Victoria. In return for his loyalty and obedience to the British government, he was given a handsome pension. In 1854 he visited London and grew close the royal family, and it was on this visit that the royal artist, Franz Winterhalter painted Singh. Although he married and settled in England, in 1882 Singh publicized his discontent with his stipend in The Times, which alienated him from the Queen. He later converted back to Sikhism and settled in Paris. Singh reconciled with the Queen only a few years before his death and he was buried in England.
The German-born Zoffany was paid handsomely to paint the royal family of George III and Queen Charlotte and their children. The scenes were very charming and Zoffany was the first artist to depict members of the royal family so informally, an example being Queen Charlotte at her toilette (bottom left). Zoffany was a major artist in the genre of conversation pieces, or 18th century paintings of identifiable persons in a small group setting. Another famous work by Zoffany is a combination of a conversation piece and another tradition from 17th century Holland, known as gallery views (or wunderkammers). The amazing thing about Zoffany’s Tribuna is that all of the works and people depicted in this painting are real and identifiable.
Charles I in three positions by Sir Anthony van Dyck
Looking rather like a mugshot, the unusual portrait of Charles I forebodes the monarch’s grim future with storm clouds circling at his back. Although painted in happier times, fourteen years later Charles I would be declared a “tyrant, traitor and murderer and public enemy of the good people” and be executed. The painting was commissioned not as a work of art in its own right, but as a descriptive model of the King for a commissioned sculpture by Bernini. Because van Dyck knew his painting would be seen by the leading studio of Rome, the painter exceeded the original requirements and created a splendid painting featuring three different costumes complete with intricate lace collars, and displayed his talent for capturing flesh tones and the subtle colour differences of Charles’ hair.
More about The Royal Collection
The Royal Collection is held in trust by The Queen as Sovereign for her successors and the nation, and is administered by the Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity.
Works of art from the Royal Collection can be viewed in The Queen’s Galleries in London and Edinburgh, which host a programme of changing exhibitions, as well as the royal palaces and residences, all of which are open to the public.
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