Charles I’s role in championing first female Renaissance artist to be celebrated in royal exhibition

The role of Charles I in championing one of the few female artists of his era is to be celebrated in an exhibition, which includes her as one of just a few dozen Buckingham Palace “masterpieces”.

A self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi, whose work has finally been recognised in the popular imagination in recent years with a blockbuster retrospective, will travel to The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, alongside works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Claude and Van Dyck.

The exhibition will highlight Charles I’s patronage of Artemisia, after he invited her to London in 1638 and went on to own her Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura), produced in the same year.

The Prince of Wales is seen with the Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (La Pittura) by Artemisia Gentileschi

Credit: Dominic Lipinski/WPA Pool/Getty Images

“In an era when few women had the opportunity to train as professional artists, Artemisia was the first woman to join the prestigious Florentine Academy,” said a spokesman for the Royal Collection Trust. 

“Her paintings were in high demand among the European nobility, including Charles I, who owned this self-portrait.”

‘One of the finest surviving self-portraits’

The exhibition in Scotland is a modified version of one in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, which hung 65 paintings for the public to see up close.

The Artemisia self-portrait was a late addition to the line-up, having been previously loaned to the National Gallery’s major retrospective of the artist in 2020.

The Royal Collection Trust calls it “one of the finest surviving self-portraits” by “the most celebrated female painter of the 17th century”.

At least 30 paintings will travel to Scotland for the exhibition in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year.

It is “a unique opportunity to view these world-renowned paintings afresh in a modern gallery setting, away from the historic interior of the Picture Gallery at Buckingham Palace”, said the Royal Collection Trust spokesman.

“The more intimate display at The Queen’s Gallery gives audiences the chance to encounter each painting at eye level.”

Visitors will be asked to consider what makes a “masterpiece”.

Artemisia Gentileschi portrait was part of Charles I’s extraordinary art collection

Charles I, a great patron of the arts, had invited Artemisia to work at the royal court – joining her painter father Orazio, who was already in London.

A portrait of Charles I

Credit: incamerastock/Alamy Stock Photo

Initially seeming reluctant, she eventually travelled in 1638.

“It was probably during her brief English sojourn (1638-c.1641) that Artemisia Gentileschi produced this painting,” said the trust spokesman.

The work became part of the extraordinary art collection assembled by Charles I, meticulously recorded as part of a sale of his belongings after his death in 1649.

It sold for £20 to "Jackson and others" on October 23 1651 and was later recovered at the Restoration.

It is included in the Masterpieces exhibition as a particularly strong example of the "artistic process", with Artemisia’s choice of pose placing "emphasis on the physicality of painting, depicting herself wearing a dirtied apron, brush in hand, leaning on a stone slab used for grinding pigments".

The exhibition will run at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, from March 25 to September 25 2022.

As well as the works commissioned and acquired by Charles I, more than two-thirds of the paintings in the exhibition were collected by George IV, who is described by the Trust as “one of history’s most extravagant monarchs and a prolific collector of art”.

Next year will be the bicentenary of George IV’s visit to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1822, the first visit by a reigning monarch for nearly two centuries and celebrated at the time by pageants organised by Sir Walter Scott.

The palace will run a series of talks and activities about the royal visit during August 2022.

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