The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: The Renaissance

Release date: 
Monday, 28 January 2008

The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse
25 April - 26 October 2008

The highly acclaimed exhibition of 16th- and 17th-century Italian art in the Royal Collection comes to Scotland in two parts in 2008 and 2009.  It celebrates the artistic legacy of the Stuart kings, Charles I and his son, Charles II, whose taste profoundly influenced the character of the British Royal Collection.

Part one presents the Italian Renaissance and includes many of the greatest masters of 16th-century Venice, Florence and Rome.  Works by Giovanni Bellini, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Tintoretto and Titian are among the 74 paintings and drawings brought together from royal palaces and residences across Britain.

The Renaissance was one of the most exciting episodes in European art. Early in the 16th century, the period known as the High Renaissance, artists combined the study of nature with a new emphasis on the human body and classical ideals of beauty. In Venice and the north of Italy, the sensuous and naturalistic possibilities of the oil medium were exploited by artists such as Titian, Lorenzo Lotto, Palma Vecchio and Jacopo Bassano to create ravishing effects of colour and light.  In Florence and Rome, Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo and Parmigianino employed complex, artificial poses and striking colour combinations to produce works of sophisticated elegance and an often unsettling intensity - a style known as Mannerism.

Described by the painter Peter Paul Rubens as ‘the greatest amateur of paintings among the princes of the world’, Charles I built up a collection of Italian masters to rival that of any European court of the period. In 1623, when Prince of Wales, he embarked for Spain to woo Philip IV’s sister, the Infanta María.  He returned with neither bride nor Anglo-Spanish alliance, but he had seen one of the finest collections  of  Italian  paintings  in  existence  and  resolved  to  create  something like it in Britain.

To achieve this, Charles I relied upon a network of advisers, dealers, agents and ambassadors across Europe. Others exchanged paintings with the king or made outright gifts in the hope of obtaining political advantage. Charles’s court gained prestige through connoisseurship, as the king’s reputation as a man of discerning taste spread across Europe.

Charles I’s purchase of a substantial part of the collection of the Dukes of Mantua in 1628-32 transformed his collection at a single stroke. English art lovers had long known of the splendours of the Gonzaga court and especially admired the work of Giulio Romano, the dominant architect, painter and ‘design consultant’ in Mantua, and the only contemporary artist mentioned by Shakespeare. Among the many treasures of the Gonzaga collection came The Holy Family by Dosso Dossi, which is included in the exhibition.

Most of Charles I’s collection was sold after his execution in 1649, but a significant number of paintings were reclaimed or bought back by Charles II after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. Among the Renaissance paintings  recovered were the enigmatic  Portrait of a Lady in Green  by Bronzino and The Holy Family with St Jerome by Correggio. Charles II was also given a handsome group of pictures by the States of Holland, including Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of Andrea Odoni and Titian’s Portrait of Jacopo Sannazaro.

Charles II was the first British monarch to collect artists’ drawings, which he probably kept in his private ‘cabinet’ rooms at Whitehall. The examples in the exhibition – by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and other masters of the Italian Renaissance – are in a wide range of media, including pen and ink, metalpoint and coloured chalk. Some are finished works, while others are preparatory studies for altarpieces, decorative frescoes, portraits, sculpture and architecture.

Other members of the royal family have shared a love of Italian Renaissance art. With the Consul Smith collection, acquired en masse by George III in 1762, came Giovanni Bellini’s Portrait of a Young Man.  Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, particularly admired early Italian painting. He bought Girolamo Romanino’s elegantPortrait of a Man, which hung in his rooms at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight.

The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: The Renaissance is on display at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse from 25 April to 26 October 2008. The companion exhibition The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: The Baroque will be shown from 13 November 2008 to 8 March 2009.

The catalogue The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: Renaissance & Baroque by Lucy Whitaker and Martin Clayton is published by Royal Collection Publications (hardback, 384 pages, 320 colour illustrations), exhibition price £45.00.  The paperback book Italian Paintings and Drawings: The Royal Collection is published by Scala (192 pages, 140 colour illustrations), price £9.95.

Exhibition opening times:  Daily  09:30–18:00 (last admission 17:00)
Admission prices* (includes audio tour): Adult £5.00, Over 60/Student £4.50, Under 17 £3.00,
Family (2 adults and 3 under 17s) £13.00, Under 5 free 
On-the-day tickets from The Queen’s Gallery. Advance tickets from or 0131 556 5100 (a booking fee applies).
*Tickets purchased directly from the Royal Collection entitle you to register for a year’s unlimited admission to The Queen's Gallery.

Further information and photographs are available from Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, 020 7839 1377,  Images can also be downloaded from the Royal Collection’s folder in the ‘Companies Available’ section on PA’s Picselect at or through the PA bulletin board.

The Press View will be held at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse from 10:00 to 12:00 on Thursday, 24 April. 
Please contact for a complete press pack