Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 101

The taste for Paolo Veronese in early Stuart London
The taste for Paolo Veronese in early Stuart London
from the expertise of his agent and curator Balthazar
Gerbier, who made several shopping expeditions on his
behalf to the continent, and who was apparently free
to spend from Buckingham’s generous purse as he saw
fit.33 On the very first of these trips, in 1619, Gerbier
travelled to Antwerp to negotiate the purchase of a
group of no less than eleven paintings by Veronese
from the collection of the duke of Aarschot. The owner
had died in 1612, and soon afterwards Somerset and
Arundel had both been alerted to the probability that
the collection was to be sold, but neither had seized the
opportunity.34 Two years after Buckingham had taken
possession of his haul, in 1621, Gerbier moved on to
Italy, and while in Venice he secured what was to be
the jewel in the crown of the Buckingham collection:
Titian’s great Ecce Homo (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches
Museum). Although an account for his purchases
on this occasion does not include anything by
Veronese,35 it is clear that the painter’s work remained
a desideratum for the collection, and that during the
course of the 1620s – although under circumstances
unfortunately unknown – the Aarschot group was to be
complemented by some further ten examples.
Fig. 8 / Peter Paul Rubens,
Portrait of George
Villiers, the 1st Duke of
Buckingham, ca. 1625, oil
on panel, 60.9 x 47.3 cm,
Glasgow, Pollok House.
In his activity as a collector, as well as in his flamboyant
personality and meteoric political career, the 1st Duke
of Buckingham has always provided a striking contrast
with his rival Arundel (fig. 8).32 The favourite first
of James and then of Charles, Buckingham began
to collect seriously only about ten years before he
was assassinated in 1628; yet in this brief decade he
succeeded in amassing an astonishing total of more
than three hundred paintings. He had less interest
in sculpture and none in drawings, and his preferred
painters were above all the Venetians, and also
honorary Venetians, such as Rubens. At the same time,
his aesthetic preferences were determined much less
by any refined connoisseurship than by conformity to
fashion, and by a desire to impress the king and other
courtiers. In forming his collection he benefited greatly
Of the two known inventories of the Buckingham
collection, the earlier, dating from 1635, records the
works that were still kept, seven years after his death,
at his residence of York House.36 They are listed by
artist and subject, and are arranged by room. The
later inventory, dating from 1650, was compiled
as a list of works to be sent for sale in Antwerp,
and this time they are arranged by artist, and their
dimensions are provided.37 The 1635 list includes
twenty paintings by Veronese, plus a Mars, Venus,
and Cupid with an interestingly refined attribution to
“Benedetto Veronese”– in other words, Paolo’s brother
and long-time assistant Benedetto Caliari (Table II.8).
Not included in the 1635 inventory is a Leda and the
Swan (II.23)(fig. 9), because in the previous year the
duke’s widow had given it to the king in exchange for
a work by Fetti.38 Also missing is a Flight into Egypt (or
perhaps a Rest on the Flight) (II.22), which is included in
the inventory of the Aarschot collection,39 and which
therefore was almost certainly bought with the others in
1619, but which may have been damaged in transit, or
given away, or excluded for some other reason from the
collection before 1635. Dominating the list of works by
Veronese in both inventories are the ten other paintings
from the Aarschot collection, all with subjects drawn
from the Old or New Testaments (II.4,10, 12, 13, 14,
15, 17, 18, 19, 20).40
TABLE II Veronese in the Buckingham Collection
Title in 1635 inventory
Number in 1650 inventory
(Davies, 1906-1907, pp. 379-81)
(Fairfax, 1758, pp. 6-8)
1. An Italian Lady at length
Present whereabouts
2. The Poland Ambassador at length (p. 11 no. 11, as Tintoretto)
3. The 3 wise men offering
4. The Anointing
5. Our Saviour Washing his Apostles’ Feet 11
6. Two other Evangelists
7. St Jerome
8. Mars and Venus (Benedetto Veronese)
KHM, Vienna inv. 140 (fig. 11)
Prague Castle (fig. 10)
(p. 8)
9. St John
10. Abraham’s Servt and Rebecca
11. Venus and Adonis liveing
12. The Samaritan Woman and our Saviour
KHM, Vienna inv. 19
13. The woman found in adultery
KHM, Vienna inv. 15
14. The Centurion and our Saviour Christ
KHM, Vienna inv. 3675
15. The Birth of our Saviour Christ
Prague Castle
16. St John Baptising our Saviour Christ
17. Susanna and the two Elders
KHM, Vienna inv. 3676
18. Agar and Ishmael
KHM, Vienna inv. 3673
19. Lott and his two Disciples
KHM, Vienna inv. 3672
20. King Assuerus and Queen Hester
KHM,Vienna inv. 3677 (fig. 13)
NGA, Washington
Not in 1635 inventory
21. Italian lady sitting on chair
22. Flight into Egypt
23. Leda and the Swan
Ajaccio (fig. 9)
In contrast with so many of the Veroneses recorded
in inventories of the period, all ten of these paintings
are extant and recognizable, thanks to the fact that the
greater part of the Buckingham collection was bought
en bloc by the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, governor of
the Spanish Netherlands, on behalf of his brother, the
Emperor Ferdinand III. Of the ten, eight are now in
Vienna and one in Washington, while the tenth remains
in Prague, the former imperial city for which it was
destined by the archduke.
The task of identifying the non-Aarschot Veroneses is
more problematic, since most of those included in 1635
(II.1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9, 11, 16, 21) had disappeared by 1650.
One of these, however, an Adoration of the Magi, is perhaps
identifiable with the picture later recorded in the Arundel
collection (I.11; see above), before it was sent to Spain.41
Another, Benedetto’s Mars, Venus, and Cupid (II.7) appears
on the 1650 list, but was retained by Buckingham’s
son, the 2nd Duke, instead of being sold to Leopold
Wilhelm.42 A third, described in the 1635 inventory
as “The Poland Ambassador at length” by “Paolo
Veneziano” is almost certainly identical with “The
picture of a Russian ambassador sitting,” which by 1650
had been reattributed to Tintoretto.43 And a fourth, the
Washing of the Disciples’ Feet (II.5) (fig. 10), which is often,
but probably incorrectly thought to have been one of
the Aarschot group,44 was, nevertheless, included in the
sale to Leopold Wilhelm, and, like the Nativity (or rather,
Adoration of the Shepherds), it remains in Prague.
Surprisingly, perhaps, the Buckingham Veroneses
included very few mythological subjects – the two
exceptions being the highly erotic Leda (II.23) and
a mysterious Venus and Adonis (II.11) – as well as
Benedetto’s Mars, Venus, and Cupid. As in the Arundel
inventory, the sitters of the three portraits are not
named - even though one of them, a full-length
“Italian lady” (II.1), was of the very grand format of
six foot three inches high. Of the ten extant Aarschot
pictures, the Anointing of David (II.4) (fig. 11) stands
apart from the others for its larger scale and more
complex composition, and especially for its much
higher quality.45 Probably dating from the artist’s early
career in his native Verona, this outstandingly beautiful
painting certainly represents one of the finest works
by Veronese to reach England before the arrival of
the Orléans collection at the end of the eighteenth
century – especially if, as argued above, Arundel’s
Christ and the Centurion never actually came to London.
By comparison, the other nine are generally agreed
to be late works executed with a considerable degree
of workshop collaboration, and for the most part
(including, for example, the Centurion, no. I.14) they
represent simplified variants of existing compositions.
Yet they, too, are of an impressive scale, and display
a typically Veronesian repertoire of noble classicizing
architecture, landscape, luxurious fabrics, exotic
costumes, and animals; and cumulatively they must
have done much to enhance the visual splendour of
the Picture Gallery at York House. Gerbier was clearly
proud of his purchase, and writing to his patron from


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