Much of what is on show in the Queen's Gallery until 20 January has been in the Royal Collection for a very long time. Charles I himself very probably commissioned one of the most remarkable pictures, Orazio Gentileschi's Joseph and Potiphar's Wife. Although the paintings Charles had gathered together were efficiently dispersed at auction under the Commonwealth (a few were kept by Parliament, in particular the Raphael cartoons and Mantegna's Triumph of Caesar), many were retrieved at the Restoration, with almost equal efficiency. Some of the greatest pictures had been sold abroad but as the notes on provenance in the catalogue show, there was much to be recovered (not always ungrudgingly) from English hands. And a lot more was added by later monarchs. However, pictures the catalogue notes as being 'recovered at the Restoration' include many of the finest things in The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection: Renaissance and Baroque. They include the Caravaggio Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, the two Tintorettos (Esther before Ahasuerus and The Muses) and the two Bassanos (The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Journey of Jacob); the Lovers attributed to Titian, the Correggio Holy Family, the Bronzino Portrait of a Lady in Green, the two paintings by Gentileschi - A Sibyl is the other one - and his daughter Artemisia's self-portrait. Without these the exhibition would be significant; with them it is magnificent.
LRB 6 September 2007 | PDF Download