Colnaghi Foundation Journal 02 - Page 106

The taste for Paolo Veronese in early Stuart London
The taste for Paolo Veronese in early Stuart London
by Charles II in 1660.59 Perhaps similarly, neither
the Faith nor the portrait were by Veronese at all. Of
equally dubious status was a large mythology recorded
in a memorandum of pictures formerly in the royal
collection, sent by Alonso de Cárdenas to Haro in 1654.
The ambassador commented to the minister that this
work was on sale as an original, with the high valuation
of 800 ducats, but that professional artists he had
consulted thought that it was a copy.60 Subsequently, no
more was heard of the picture.
Both of these mythologies have a strong erotic content,
and the fact that as part of the exchange of 1634
Charles also acquired a Venus Disrobing after Titian
suggests that in these instances, at least, any aesthetic
taste for Veronese may have been combined with one
that was more sensual.56
Fig. 15 / Paolo Veronese,
Finding of Moses, ca.
1581-1582, oil on canvas,
57 x 43 cm, Madrid,
Museo Nacional del Prado.
Two of Charles’s other Veroneses, an Allegorical Figure
of Faith and a Portrait of a Man in Armour (III.1 and 2),
are described quite circumstantially by Van der Doort,
and do not correspond to any extant work by the
artist.57 The Faith formed part of a group of twentythree pictures acquired from the dealer William Frizell
in 1637, together with a Diana and Actaeon attributed
to Veronese,58 but about which Van der Doort already
had some doubts – justifiably, since it is almost certainly
identical with a decidedly weak picture in the style of
Schiavone, which was recovered for the royal collection
By contrast, a painting that Cárdenas did send to Spain
is not only the most beautiful of Charles’s Veroneses,
but is arguably the most beautiful of any of the artist’s
works that came to England in this period: the Finding of
Moses, now in the Prado (III.4) (fig. 15).61 Executed on a
scale that requires intimate viewing (50 x 43 cm), with a
delicacy and vibrancy of touch that anticipates the fêtes
galantes of Watteau, this is surely a work that reflects the
aspect of Charles as a refined connoisseur rather than
as a powerful ruler. Specialists on Veronese have been
slow to catch up with the fact that it was demonstrated
more than thirty years ago that Cárdenas bought this
picture for Haro – and ultimately for Philip IV – at the
Commonwealth sale at Somerset House in 1650.62 It
is presumably therefore identical with the one of this
subject, in which there were “eleven little intire figures,”
listed in the Van der Doort catalogue – despite the fact
that the dimensions are here given as one foot three
square (38 cm square), and it is described as “painted
upon a thinn paisted board” rather than on canvas.63
Perhaps this board was not in fact the pictorial support,
and its existence can be explained by the fact that in
Charles’s collection the painting was framed back-toback with an Annunciation to the Shepherds by Bassano. In
any case, this arrangement was only a temporary one,
and at the Commonwealth sale the two paintings were
sold separately.64 Van der Doort also notes that the
Veronese was bought from “Daniell Neece at Venice”;
and although it was Nijs who brokered the bulk sale of
the Gonzaga pictures, these are consistently designated
as a “Mantua peeces” in the catalogue, and this
different designation implies that Charles bought the
Moses from him under a separate deal.65
Although Charles’s Veroneses were few in number
compared with those of Arundel and Buckingham (and
also of those of Hamilton), and the three recognizable
ones are all relatively unimposing in scale, it may be
observed that these are also of high quality – and also
that they were not acquired as part of bulk purchases.
Fig. 16 / Workshop of
Veronese, Esther and
Ahasuerus, ca. 1580s, oil
on canvas, 208 x 284 cm,
Florence, Galleria degli
Fig. 17 / Anthony van Dyck,
Cupid and Psyche, 16391640, oil on canvas, 200.2 x
192.6 cm, London, The Royal
Collection Trust.
All three, in fact, were carefully selected: the Mars, Venus,
and Cupid by Charles himself, no doubt from many other
possible treasures in the Lerma collection; the Leda,
again by Charles, from other candidates for an exchange
in the Buckingham collection; and the Moses by Nijs,
who would certainly have recognized its quality, and
chose it specially for the king. Given these circumstances
– and given Charles’s known love of Titian and of
Venetian painting in general – it is hard to know what
to make of a now often quoted remark by Basil, Lord
Feilding in a letter of May 1637 to his brother-in-law,
the marquess of Hamilton. At the time Feilding was the
English ambassador to Venice, and like his predecessors
Wotton, Carleton, and Wake, combined his diplomatic
duties with an active search for pictures to send back to
London – notably to Hamilton, on behalf of the king.
In this letter Feilding makes one of the most explicit
of all known references to Charles’s aesthetic taste: “I
have seen 4 large pieces by Veronese, wch will hardly
be bought for 1300 Duckettts but they are of his best
manner, though that I heare is not verie acceptable
to the King and therefore is not much esteem’d
by your lordship.”66 Especially since it has been
convincingly suggested that these four large paintings
were none other than the four masterpieces then in
Palazzo Cuccina (now Dresden Gemäldegalerie),67 it
is difficult to imagine that they would not have been
very acceptable indeed to Charles if they had been
presented to him, and therefore also to imagine why
Feilding drew Hamilton’s attention to them, while
at the same time expressing diffidence about their
acceptability to either collector. In this connection,
however, it may be noted that in March of the previous
year Feilding had sent Hamilton a large and complex,
but rather weak Esther before Ahasuerus (fig. 16) – and if
on its arrival in London Charles’s reaction had been less
than enthusiastic, Feilding was perhaps now inclined to
be cautious about offering any more works that the king
might consider to be below the artist’s best.
Whatever Charles’s own attitude to Veronese, there
can be little doubt that he was greatly admired by
several of the leading painters at his court. Most
conspicuously of all, and as has often been pointed
out, the magnificent glorification of the Stuart
dynasty by Rubens on the Whitehall ceiling is deeply
indebted to Veronese’s ceiling in the church of San
Sebastiano in Venice – both in its overall design and
in the composition of the individual canvases. But
Orazio Gentileschi, too, unmistakably pays homage
to Veronese in his two versions of the Finding of Moses
(Private Collection, Prado),68 more generally in the
shimmer of light-toned silks and the feathery trees,
but perhaps in particular – despite the great difference
of scale – to Charles’s own picture of the same
subject. And finally, although it is usually the influence
of Titian that is mentioned in connection with Van
Dyck’s sensuous late mythology, Cupid and Psyche (Royal
Collection) (fig. 17), the decorative elegance and the
silvery colours, as already twenty years earlier in
the Continence of Scipio, arguably make it even more
reminiscent of Veronese.


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