Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 93

The taste for Paolo Veronese
in early Stuart London
Fig. 1 / Paolo Caliari,
called Veronese, Venus,
Mars, and Cupid,
ca. 1580-1585, oil
on canvas, 165.2 x
126.5 cm, Edinburgh,
National Gallery of
In the hierarchy of the Italian painters most admired
and sought after by the princely collectors of the
seventeenth century, Paolo Veronese was generally
accorded a high place: fourth, perhaps, after Raphael,
Titian, and Correggio; but among the great Venetians
decidedly second only to Titian.1 The conviction that
works by Veronese would be an ornament to even the
greatest of art collections was expressed in June 1646
by none other than Philip IV of Spain, in a letter sent
to his ambassador in London, Alonso de Cárdenas. In
response to the news that the celebrated collection of
the former royal favourite, the Duke of Buckingham,
was about to be sold – and further, that the even more
celebrated collection of Charles I was also likely soon
to come on the market – Philip urged Cárdenas to look
out for pictures “which might be originals by Titian
or Veronese, or other old painters of distinction.” 2
Whereas, however, the king was already the owner of
by far the greatest collection of Titians in the world, as
yet he possessed very few paintings by Veronese. In fact,
he possessed one fewer than he had inherited, since on
the occasion of Charles’s disastrous visit to Madrid in
1623 to woo the Infanta, Philip had actually presented
to him as a diplomatic gift one of the rare works by
the master to have reached Spain by the early years
of the seventeenth century: a Venus, Mars, and Cupid
(Edinburgh, National Gallery of Scotland ) (fig. 1),
previously in the collection of the Duke of Lerma.3
Perhaps it now occurred to Philip that this was an
opportunity to regain his imprudent gift – as he was
successfully to do in the case of another important
picture that Charles had taken home with him, Titian’s
Charles V with a Hound (Madrid, Prado).4 In any case, as
he no doubt realized, the upheavals of the Civil War
would have provided his agents with plenty of other
Veroneses to select. There were good examples not only
in the Buckingham and royal collections, but also in
the two other most important collections in London,
those of the Earl of Arundel and of the Marquess of
Hamilton (raised to a dukedom in 1643). On the basis
of inventories of these four collections it is possible
to calculate that before their dispersal in the 1650s
the number of works in London by (or attributed to)
Veronese totalled at least sixty – more than anywhere
outside Venice. Although as events unfolded, the
majority of these were to end up in the hands of
Philip’s Habsburg cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor –
and Philip did not recuperate his Venus, Mars, and Cupid
– a respectable number did indeed gravitate to Spain.
The main purpose of the present article is to attempt
to clarify, as far as is now possible, the identity of
these sixty or so works, and to trace the circumstances
both of their arrival in London, and of their onward
journeys after the Civil War. But in passing, some
even more difficult questions will be raised about the
taste for Veronese at the courts of Charles I and of his
father James I. To some extent, the numbers speak for
themselves; yet is there any evidence that the leading
collectors deliberately sought out his work – as Philip IV
was apparently keen to do? Or was Veronese just
another master whose work happened to be available
through the newly established diplomatic channels in
Venice? And is it possible to discern any differences
among the collectors in their appreciation of him?


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