In this blog series, our curators, archivists, conservators and learning team will be bringing together works of art from across the Collection under one theme. From armour and jewellery, to portraits and porcelain, read about some of the most fascinating and marvellous pieces in the Collection here.
Discover the stories behind some of our most intriguing works in this week's blog theme of Patronage.
Maiolica wine cooler, workshop of Flaminio Fontana, Urbino, 1574
This magnificent wine cooler, in tin-glazed earthenware (maiolica), was almost certainly commissioned by Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Its lavish decoration, showing a Roman naval battle in the well and extensive grotesque ornament, includes Cosimo’s device, a turtle with a ship’s mast on its back, which is the pictorial representation of his motto, festina lente (hasten slowly).
After Taddeo Zuccaro (1529–1566), The Battle of the Morbidhan Gulf, c. 1560, pen, ink and wash over black chalk, 35.2 x 28.3 cm. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020
A version of this drawing was the model for the naval battle depicted in the bowl of the wine cooler.
An inscription on the base of the wine cooler gives the initials of its maker, Flaminio Fontana, its place of production, Urbino, in the Marche region of Italy, and the year when it was made, 1574. Cosimo died in April 1574, so it is possible that he never saw this wonderful piece.
Hans Memling, Angel with a Sword, 1479-1480
The beautiful panel depicts an angel in full length, holding a sword in his right hand, standing on dark stormy clouds, against a gilded background. The very narrow format of this panel indicates that this was likely the wing of a triptych. Indeed, it is first recorded in Margaret of Austria’s inventory of 1516 according to which there was a triptych with a central panel by Roger van der Weyden portraying the Man of Sorrows in the Arms of the Virgin, with two wings by the master Hans. The same triptych is once again mentioned in the inventory of the same collection drawn in 1624, where one of the angels is described as holding a sword.
Flemish school, The Emperor Charles V, c. 1525-1545
Margaret of Austria was the regent of Habsburg Netherlands from 1507 to 1530. She was the second child of Maximilian of Austria and Mary of Burgundy. She was appointed regent of the Netherlands by her father Maximilian, and when her godson Charles V arrived at the throne, he reappointed her to govern the Netherlands. Under her rule, the dominion of the Habsburgs in the Netherlands expanded considerably, and there was an almost unprecedented long period of peace in the area. Not only was she a remarkable politician but also a great patron of the arts and her court at Mechelen became an important artistic centre, where she received scholars such as Agrippa or Erasmus, and even collected objects from the newly discovered America.
François Boucher, Madame de Pompadour, 1759
Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, marquise de Pompadour, was one of the most influential women of her time. As Louis XVI’s Maitresse en Titre, or First Mistress to the King, she obtained an important position in politics and as patron of the arts. She was Boucher’s most important patron, commissioning numerous paintings and portraits from him. The present work forms part of a series Pompadour commissioned to publicise and strengthen her position in the public sphere.
Yet, it is also a testament to her role as patron of the arts. In the background, the sculpture of Friendship Consoling Love is loosely modelled on the famous works by Pigalle commissioned by the Marquise, whilst her ornate pink dress speaks of her role as trend-setter in the French Court. Under her influence, the king built the royal porcelain factory at Sèvres, and she was also an important supporter of the Gobelins tapestry manufactory, where the tapestries after Boucher’s two paintings, The Rising of the Sun and The Setting of the Sun, were woven. The degree of her influence was unusual for a royal mistress, and her name became synonymous with good taste.
Sword of Henry, Prince of Wales, The hilt English, possibly by Robert South of London; the blade German, by Clement Horn of Solingen, c. 1610–12
Renaissance rulers defined their ambitions, public images, and their court culture through patronage of the arts. Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales (1594–1612) was the eldest son of King James I of England and VI of Scotland, the successor of Queen Elizabeth I. As a boy he showed great promise as a future monarch, being intelligent, physically active, widely read, an enthusiastic art collector, curious about military and political matters, and an excellent horseman and martial artist. Embodying all the core noble values, Henry promised England a bright future, a return to the triumphal days of Henry VIII. A whole literary and artistic cult grew up around him; allegorical portraits represented him as the perfect prince, poems extolled his virtues, and elaborate courtly festivals glorified him as the harbinger of a new chivalric golden age.
Dress swords of this simple cruciform design appeared quite suddenly in England at the height of this movement (c. 1610). Supplanting the rapier as the essential side-arm of fashionable English noblemen, this sword expresses the hope for a rebirth of chivalry in England —it is a Jacobean interpretation of the classic weapon of the medieval Christian knight. Those hopes were dashed however, when Prince Henry died of typhoid at the age of eighteen, never to ascend the throne as King Henry IX.