Art, Passion & Power: The Story of the Royal Collection (2018) s01e02 Episode Script

Paradise Regained

1660, a new dawn
is breaking in England.
Republican rule, once strong under
Oliver Cromwell,
has crashed into anarchy and chaos
under his son.
There is a power vacuum
and many in the country are backing
one man to fill this void.
The son of the executed Charles I
..Charles Stuart.
Here he is,
Charles II.
Of all Royal portraits,
this is the one with the most
straightforward message.
I'm back!
There's something of a rock star
about him.
Papa's got a brand-new throne.
In fact, he's got a brand-new
New crown, new sceptre, new orb,
all remade for this Coronation
because Charles I's regalia
had been melted down.
There's a big ambition
behind this portrait -
it's the ambition to re-establish
absolute monarchy in England.
Restoring power meant revitalising
the Royal Collection,
bringing great treasures,
great masterpieces back into
the ownership of the Crown.
This series tells the remarkable
story of the Royal Collection,
works of art that fill palaces
and galleries around the country.
And in this film, I'll be showing
how, under the new King Charles II,
it rose like a phoenix from the
ashes of the English Civil War.
I'll see what new research
has revealed
in Leonardo da Vinci's drawings,
secrets hidden for 500 years.
That's incredible!
After Charles, the Royal Collection
would survive, despite fire
Imagine all of that ablaze!
..and Philistine kings.
"I hate painting
and I hate poetry."
It would expand again in magnificent
style, as George III spent big,
filling his new home,
Buckingham House,
with the world's finest Canalettos.
As Britain's empire grew,
George's palace came alive with
exotic Surinam butterflies
and runaway Indian elephants,
a new confident collection, playing
it loud and writing its own score.
Ruling the waves, waiving the rules.
Britain's Royal Collection
on the rise.
Today, Britain's royal palaces
are double,
even triple-hung, with paintings.
Many have been here for decades,
if not centuries.
The pictures so much part of the
palace that it's hard to imagine
the walls bare.
But in 1660, the royal palaces
looked starkly different.
Oliver Cromwell auctioned much
royal art to pay debts.
Rooms were stripped empty.
But with the Restoration,
this changed.
The Royal Collection
was about to be re-awoken.
The Royal Collection is, in many
respects, a strange beast.
One that's slept for many years
and suddenly woken up.
One that's stayed the same size
for long periods of time
and then suddenly
put on a growth spurt.
And so it was, in 1660,
when suddenly,
almost out of the blue,
some of the greatest masterpieces in
the Collection today entered it
for the first time as part of
a gift from Holland,
which included 28 masterpieces,
three of the greatest of which
are in front of me now.
In modern money, the Dutch gift was
probably worth something like
30 million euros.
Today, who knows what these
paintings would be worth?
This is one of my favourite pictures
in the whole Royal Collection.
Lorenzo Lotto's
portrait of Andrea Odoni.
Lotto's a brilliant eccentric.
All his portraits pulsate with life,
none more than this one.
The Dutch chose Italian paintings,
some by the Venetian master Titian -
guessing the new King shared his
father's taste for Renaissance art.
Absolutely fantastic pictures,
but the great question,
the 30 million euro question,
is why on earth should the Dutch
have given them to the English King?
There's a one-word answer -
The Dutch worried they'd snubbed
Charles during his exile.
Would he seek revenge?
They poured oil paintings
on troubled waters.
At home, too,
Charles was an unknown quantity.
The nation gulped.
The new King had inherited his
father's belief in art as a means to
project Royal power.
What other traits might have
been passed on?
Would Charles ride his father's
blood-stained coat-tails?
Or was he cut from
a different cloth?
For many Britons,
it was a time of dread,
and there's a place where you can
share their emotion even now -
the House of Fear,
the Tower of London.
Many were afraid of retribution.
Payment to the new King was not
through blood or torture,
but peace offerings.
So what do you give to a man
who's just taken possession
of an entire country?
How about this for starters?
A golden replica miniature castle,
complete with inset precious stones
and little cannons firing
from its rooftops.
It's known as the State Salt
because it's also a salt cellar.
Within it are concealed
seven little compartments
for seasoning your food,
and salt in the 17th century was
very much a rich man's seasoning,
it was a very valuable commodity.
Who gave it to Charles and why?
Well, there hangs a tale.
It's a wonderful piece
of silver gilt.
It's also a bit of a guilt trip
because it was presented to Charles
by Exeter, the city of Exeter,
to atone for the fact that,
during the Civil War,
it had been a centre
for the Parliamentarians.
This was Exeter's way of saying,
"Sorry, we won't do that again."
You might say it's the most
finely crafted
grovelling apology in the history
of the decorative arts.
The Restoration brought
sweeping changes
and perhaps none more so in the
loosening of accepted morals.
Charles's new court became notorious
across Europe.
His motto seemed to be
"Make love, not war".
Anyone's wife would do.
Sir Winston Churchill,
in his History Of The
English-Speaking Peoples,
described Charles's reign as,
"An unceasing, flagrant
and brazen scandal" -
and he was barely exaggerating.
Behind this door
in Hampton Court Palace,
you'll find the cause
of all that scandal.
These are the so-called
Windsor Beauties.
The supermodels of the court
in the swinging '60s.
The 1660s.
Now, the Windsor Beauties have long
enjoyed the dubious distinction of
being regarded as the most
outrageously immoral pictures
in the Royal Collection.
William Hazlitt, the great
19th-century critic,
summed it up when
he described them as,
"A set of kept mistresses,
painted, tawdry".
And here's the queen bee
of these mistresses.
In fact, she's the only one known
for sure to have been
a mistress of Charles II.
This is Barbara Castlemaine,
painted by Sir Peter Lely
as Minerva,
Goddess of Wisdom and War.
I don't know how wise she was,
but she certainly was victorious in
the battle for Charles's affections.
He had five children by her.
Lely's done something
very clever here.
His great hero as an artist
was van Dyck
and these paintings are clearly
painted in the mould of van Dyck's
portraits of Charles I's court.
Images of lords and ladies
aggrandised as gods or saints
or martyrs,
all designed to reinforce the sense
of the divine right of kings,
and, by association, the divine
qualities of lords and ladies.
But the difference here is that you
know she doesn't believe it.
Lely doesn't believe it.
Charles II doesn't believe it.
It's fancy dress.
And the giveaway is those eyes.
It's Lely's great innovation
in the history of portraiture,
the post-coital gaze.
They all look as if they've just
been in bed with their lover.
Charles dreamt of angels to encircle
him as God's anointed son,
but his angels were somewhat fallen.
Yet one Beauty differs
from the others -
Frances Stewart.
Charles was obsessed by her from
the moment she arrived at court
aged not even 16.
Imagine having to rebuff the
advances of a lecherous King
in a greased periwig, but she did.
And I think it's really interesting
that in this picture,
where Lely has painted her as,
significantly, Diana,
the Huntress, the Virgin,
she doesn't have those
bedtime eyes.
She actually looks at us with
a sense of self-possession
and even her drapery doesn't have
that kind of collapsed, blowsy,
falling-off-my-body look.
Frances never faltered.
She never became
the King's mistress.
Good for you, Frances.
Charles couldn't have everything
he wanted.
He envied his cousin, Louis XIV,
with his suave French court,
his extraordinary silver furniture,
and his untold wealth.
Throughout his reign, Charles
imagined having his own Versailles.
Royal Collection Trust expert
Rufus Bird showed me
the glitter of Charles's ambition.
Goodness me,
so what do we have here?
This is silver furniture
from the 17th century.
These are almost certainly
pieces that belonged to Charles II.
So this is silver furniture
for the court of Charles II?
How magnificent!
Who could doubt that Charles
had dreams of building
a British Versailles
after seeing this?
Without its silver skin, the table
looks positively naked.
Between us, we put it back together.
I'm going to pick up
this corner plate here
and just carry it over
on to the table.
And here you see it just literally
fits onto the corner
like that there.
Can I pass you this other piece?
Yeah, absolutely, yeah.
I was imagining something the weight
of silver foil.
It's heavy. And then they fit
together like so.
The most expensive jigsaw
in the world.
And then they're nailed into place?
Yes. That's it.
It strikes me as slightly
impractical as a table.
I mean, imagine trying to
put a cup of tea down.
Everything's going to be sort of
so it's very much ornamental,
isn't it? It is.
So is there an
element of Charles II,
now he's back and he wants to really
establish a magnificent court?
He's looking over the water to
Versailles, perhaps, and thinking,
"My court must be every bit,
"or nearly every bit,
as magnificent as that"?
Certainly, he wanted to give off the
impression that he had this kind of
really, really powerful court,
and he wanted to furnish and
decorate it in exactly the same way
as his first cousin Louis was doing.
Of course, the problem with
Charles II, as ever, was cost.
He needed the money
and he just didn't quite have
as much as Louis did.
One special room in Windsor Castle
encapsulates Charles's
extravagant taste.
If you wanted to see God's
anointed King at his most powerful,
you'd visit here at a mealtime.
And his food, it was simply divine.
This is the King's dining room
at Windsor.
The King in question
being Charles II.
Here he is. His haughty self.
And you have to understand that it's
not really a dining room in the
modern domestic sense.
It's more in the nature
of a theatre.
And to explain how it worked,
I just need to move the furniture
There we go.
Now, three times a week at 3pm,
the King and his favourite courtiers
would sit at a table here,
laid rather grandly,
and they would eat,
conspicuously consuming large
amounts of extremely expensive,
high-end provender.
And this spectacle would be
It was a public event.
At least, witnessed by members of
the higher orders of society.
When he dined publicly, Charles was
emulating his father, pictured here,
a King who, like other Stuarts, knew
the power of theatrical display.
If you came, it was an opportunity
to see who's in and who's out.
Who's sitting close to the King?
Who's been relegated
to the bottom of the table?
Now the painted backdrop to this
public theatre of eating
is itself all about food.
It's this ceiling.
The Feast Of The Gods by an Italian
immigrant called Antonio Verrio.
And the message
is very clear to see.
Up there,
the gods of ancient mythology
are at their banqueting table.
Down here,
today's God,
the King, Charles II,
is taking his food.
The equivalence is meant to underpin
that ancient idea
of the divine right of kings.
But while the provender was
high-end, the painting wasn't.
The anatomies of the figures
are curiously boneless.
The expressions on their faces
are distinctly gormless.
The figures descending with garlands
of flowers are truly hopeless.
I think the sad fact is that Antonio
Verrio really wasn't verio goodo.
Throughout his reign, Charles II
used art to project the power of
monarchy and the Royal Collection
grew spectacularly.
But one priceless acquisition seems
not to have cost Charles a penny.
It appears to have been a gift.
As far as I'm concerned,
every day in the Royal Collection
is Christmas Day.
..this really is something
to be unwrapped.
I'll be with you in a moment.
Just enjoy being tantalised
by the prospect of the present.
Now what is this?
This is the whirligig
and it was created in about 1910
so that His Majesty, as he then was,
could show his guests here in
the Royal Library some of the
masterpieces of the Royal
Collection's drawing collection.
Because, as you know, drawings are
very light-sensitive and need to be
protected from the light.
So it can be shrouded 99%
of the time,
and then you take off the cover
and you end up with
this wonderful book, almost,
except the pages aren't covered
in words, but images.
These are the drawings
that I'm here to see.
It's by an artist you may of heard
of, who's called Leonardo da Vinci.
The Royal Collection contains 600,
yes, 600 drawings
by Leonardo da Vinci,
the world's greatest
such collection,
which probably entered
the Royal Collection through
the grandson of Thomas Howard,
Earl of Arundel,
a contemporary of Charles I, who was
insatiable for old master drawings
and had a great collection.
It's more than likely that
he originally bought these,
and they passed into
Charles's collection,
but what treasures they are, look.
Looks a little bit Mona Lisa,
doesn't she?
And here we've got two studies
for a woman's hands.
Look at that delicacy,
the brilliance of it.
And then you turn through
more pages of the whirligig,
and suddenly you've got
Leonardo the scientist.
The human foetus,
dissected and observed
with notes, testament to Leonardo
as one of the great fathers of
the modern scientific spirit.
"Never take anything on trust," he
wrote again and again to himself
in his notebooks.
"Never trust authority.
Only learn from nature."
Did Charles realise
what he had acquired?
It took centuries for the genius of
these drawings to be appreciated.
They were seen as curiosities
or distractions.
Why wasn't he getting on
with his paintings?
Why was he studying
this sort of thing?
So much so that
a professor at the Royal Academy
at the end of the 18th century, who
saw these drawings, could still say
that Leonardo was a man who'd wasted
his life in experiments.
It was only really
in the last 200 years
that Leonardo's importance as
a scientist has been discovered.
But perhaps because they were not
valued at their true worth,
they remained rather at the back of
the filing cabinet of
the Royal Collection all together,
and together is how they remain.
They're among the great treasures,
the great treasures,
not just of the Royal Collection,
but of art in this country.
To look deeper into Leonardo's
drawings, there's a modern technique
that would have fascinated
Leonardo himself.
So, Martin, all I know is that
you've made some rather interesting
and that Leonardo da Vinci
is the subject of those
What have you found? Yes, well, this
is through scientific investigation
of the metal point drawings from
the start of Leonardo's career.
Copper fades and here's a drawing
which to the naked eye
appear almost entirely blank.
They have a pink
preparation on them.
This is almost entirely blank.
Yes, if we take this drawing
over here
and turn on a UV light,
and I'll have to ask you to put
those glasses on because this is
rather nasty stuff.
Yes. Yep, ready. OK?
And then I turn these lights on,
we have.. That's incredible!
..what is actually one of the most
beautiful of Leonardo's drawings.
In one minute, there was nothing
there at all and
We think they're connected
with the Adoration of the Magi,
the great unfinished altarpiece
of 1481.
You can see this little hand
bringing a bell in there,
for example, and these two hands
held in astonishment.
How beautiful! Do you think these
are drawn from some body?
I think so.
The beautiful foreshortening
of the hand there,
that's an extremely elaborate pose.
And the way in which this hand is
seen almost edge on,
all the figures are in position,
that must be done from the life,
I'm sure.
I'll just turn these lights off.
Have you had any other
equivalent results?
Yes, now here's a drawing
where you can see SOME detail.
I can see the muzzle
of a horse, yeah.
The lower half of the sheet
is essentially blank. Yes.
And then I turn these lights on
Oh, my word!
..and we get that.
Goodness me!
That's incredible!
It really is like magic.
You flick the switch and two
Leonardo drawings turn into five,
maybe six.
Yeah. Absolutely wonderful.
I don't know what you'd call this.
Is this conservation
or is it witchcraft?
When Charles II died in 1685,
his brother James became King.
James lacked Charles's diplomacy,
tact and sharpness.
A Catholic himself, he pursued
pro-Catholic policies,
which many saw as a threat
to the Protestant ascendancy,
so they looked abroad for an
alternative Protestant king
and they picked Charles II's
Dutch nephew, William of Orange.
So what was the forecast for
a new Anglo-Dutch monarchy?
Here it is.
Well, I'm up on the roof
of the Banqueting House
and this is a telling memorial
to that turbulent period
in British history.
It's a great weather vane made
for James by his blacksmiths.
A kind of device
for measuring danger
because, when the wind
was in the west,
that meant that William's fleet was
safely confined to port in Holland.
But wind from the east
spelt of danger,
the possibility of
James's very own D-Day.
Which way would
the winds of history blow?
Well, the wind did change
at the end of October
and, on the 1st of November, a great
fleet set sail from Holland,
400 ships, four times the size of
the Spanish Armada.
The invaders won the day.
Another Dutch gift. This time they'd
given Britain a whole new King.
In 1689, William and his wife Mary
took the crown.
But what of the great royal complex
that came with it, Whitehall Palace?
1,500 rooms decorated with the
Collection's finest Holbeins,
tapestries and sculptures,
all close to the city.
But city smoke played hell
with William's asthma,
and the royal couple said no.
They moved instead to Kensington
Palace and, in doing so,
saved the Collection from disaster.
It's very hard to get a sense of
Whitehall Palace as it once was
from the landscape of modern London.
Things have changed so completely.
But you can at least get an idea
of its scale
and its extent if you compare
that cityscape
with a map of the palace as it was
at the time from up here
in the London Eye.
It extended pretty much from the
Treasury over there,
all the way virtually
to what's now Charing Cross Station.
And it extended way back.
Yeah, beyond the Horse Guards.
It was vast. It was a rabbit
In 1698, the building caught fire,
but then it spread and the whole
building was aflame.
Imagine all of that,
imagine all of that ablaze!
What a sight, what is spectacle,
what a trauma!
Great treasures were lost.
A wonderful early Michelangelo
sculpture of a Cupid.
Holbein's great Whitehall mural
showing Henry VIII and his family.
But it could have been
so much worse.
By moving to Kensington Palace,
William and Mary unwittingly saved
many items from the flames.
Gems like the Leonardo drawings
escaped the fire.
So, all in all, you'd have to say
the Royal Collection's
led a bit of a charmed life.
Government buildings were erected on
the ruins of Whitehall Palace.
An apt metaphor perhaps?
Under William and Mary,
royal power was slimmed and
superseded by Parliament.
After the Whitehall Palace fire,
the Royal Collection
faced another challenge -
the early Georgians.
George II especially was not famed
as a connoisseur.
One tale has entered the folklore
of Kensington Palace.
The story goes that, in 1735,
when the King was away,
his Queen, Caroline, decided to
rehang the pictures in this room.
She didn't like his taste,
so she filled the space with
Holbeins and van Dycks.
But when George came back,
he was absolutely enraged.
He wanted everything put back
exactly as it had been.
His adviser is said to have
asked, "Really, my lord?
"Even the gigantic painting
of the fat Venus?"
"Yes, I like my fat Venus
"better than anything else
you have given me!"
And there she still hangs today.
By Giorgio Vasari,
the inventor of art history.
A painting that perhaps proves
he was a better writer
than he was a painter.
I think the whole story tells us
a lot about George's taste -
and not just in art.
George was not much of an art buyer,
but his indifference,
or outright contempt,
would indirectly benefit
the Collection.
Frederick, his son, was a rebel.
And how better to infuriate your
philistine father
than pour energy and patronage
into all things artistic?
To get a feel for Frederick's
rebellious side,
you have to skirt Hampton Court
Palace itself
and seek out the royal equivalent
of a gardener's shed.
Now, I'm hoping that
this is going to be
an X marks the spot moment.
You'll see what I mean in a minute.
What I'm looking for
is the exact place where
..Frederick and his sisters
performed this
particular musical concert.
This picture was painted in 1733
by Philip Mercier,
and the Royal Collection have very
allowed me to remove it from its
frame and bring it here.
Only joking. This is what I prepared
because I think it's here that this
concert was first played.
It can't have been there.
The river is through the window
Ah, I think this is it.
Have a look for yourselves.
Mirror in the middle, things have
changed, obviously, over the
but that view of the palace hasn't.
So I think this is indeed
X marks the spot and that
I'm in that window seat.
Now, why am I so interested in this
Because these are the children of
the George II,
who famously said he didn't like
IMITATES KING: "I hate painting and
I hate poetry."
But these children are saying,
"We are not like Dad."
Amelia is reading Milton,
so she likes poetry.
And at the centre,
Frederick playing the cello.
Family relations summed up in a
I love it. The dog loves it, too.
Frederick embraced the arts,
buying masterpieces by Guido Reni,
by Rubens
..and by van Dyck.
Frederick also loved the Rococo
This is his royal barge.
Everywhere you look, there is a
frill or a shell or a gilded pooch.
Frederick dreamed of founding
Britain's first great art academy.
Imagine his impact on the Royal
Collection had HE become king.
But it never happened.
He died aged just 44.
Instead, his son, George III, would
be the next king, in 1760.
Taking the throne was a shy,
diffident 22-year-old.
Britain was on the up and up, the
empire was getting more muscular.
An expectant country watched to see
how well the new king filled his
throne. The moment's caught in oil
So, this is the Green Drawing Room
of Buckingham Palace
and it contains a really fascinating
portrait of George III himself,
painted by the great Scottish
portraitist Allan Ramsay.
pure baroque power portrait of a
a picture that would fit very easily
and comfortably into the tradition
of van Dyck's portraits of
Charles I.
But look more closely.
That king is somehow more grounded
than the kings of the past.
He is depicted with this sharp-eyed
Scottish Enlightenment sense of
realism, that is ermine that you can
that is glittering silk that you can
That is a man whom you can look in
the eye.
Underneath the regal silk was a man
with varied tastes.
A lover of nature,
but also astronomy.
One of the great royal book
as well as a king with a keen sense
of duty to his country.
This was the image that George
wanted the world to know him by.
In fact, he loved the picture so
much that he asked Ramsay to paint
more than 150 copies of it.
He delegated a lot of the work to
his studio, but, even so,
the effort nearly killed him.
Though less extravagant than some of
his predecessors,
George was keen to project a
potent patriotic image.
"I glory in the name of Britain," he
George was responsible for one of
the great symbols of
British royalty,
the house that would become
Buckingham Palace.
Filling its empty walls cost George
boom time for the collection.
And his great commission for his
coronation is on display in the
Royal Mews, a four-tonne Goliath.
The heaviest work of art in the
Royal Collection
and one of the few that's on
I remember
being taken to see the Gold State
Coach by my mum when I was probably
about six or seven years old
and, usually, things that you
remember being fantastically
impressed by as a child become less
impressive as you get older,
but I think this is absolutely
What a wonderful object.
Cost a fortune,
took years to create.
Carved by an Englishmen,
Joseph Wilton.
These are Tritons, figures that blow
through their shells.
They accompany, traditionally,
Neptune, the sea god.
Exactly the same figures appear on
the most famous fountain in the
the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
Borrowed by an Englishman and put on
the King's coach.
This is Britain
blowing its own trumpets!
Its subject is British victory
and it gets better,
British victory over the French!
It's celebrating the Annus Mirabilis
of 1759, when
the French were defeated by land, by
sea, in America, in India.
This was the moment that saw Britain
really establish itself centre-stage
as the greatest world power
and don't the creators of this coach
want us to know it?
Such a huge, unwieldy thing.
It's almost like a Baroque fountain
on wheels.
And through the centuries, as it's
been used by one monarch after the
next for their coronations, the
..constant theme of complaint has
been how very uncomfortable it is.
Queen Victoria said, "The
oscillation is almost unbearable."
And George VI simply said, "It is
the most damned uncomfortable ride
"of my life." And that's the price
you pay for magnificence.
It certainly lent majesty to our own
queen's 1953 coronation.
Sadly for George, it wasn't finished
in time for his.
Instead, its maiden voyage took him
to open Parliament in 1762.
Short trips were the order of the
day for the King.
Royals didn't really venture abroad,
although it was a golden age of
travel for the aristocracy.
Young nobleman soaked up classical
culture on the grand tour,
ogling every masterpiece, as
immortalised here by Johan Zoffany.
Their journey would usually end in
where they'd most likely buy a
picture by Canaletto,
the artist of the moment.
But King George never went.
So how did stay-at-home George come
to own over 50 paintings by
including this cast-of-thousands
depiction of the annual
Venetian Festival,
celebrating the marriage of city and
To answer that question, I took the
trip to Venice that George never
Venice today is remarkably as it
was when Canaletto painted it.
All his landmarks are still here -
the Doge's Palace,
the Campanile at St Mark's Square.
This place really is a kind of
the least-changed city in the world.
Massimo, andiamo.
I'm travelling up the Grand Canal,
under the famous Rialto Bridge,
to one particular palazzo,
the epicentre of Venetian art in the
18th century.
That palace was once owned by a
man called Joseph Smith,
Consul Smith,
a real character.
A wheeler-dealer. He came to Venice
when he was a young man,
became Canaletto's agent.
Before you knew it, he was selling
Canaletto's pictures to
English "me, lords"
coming to this city on their grand
But he kept the best pictures for
But in 1762, hard times, times of
war, Consul Smith, he is an old man.
In his late 80s, he decides to sell
to cash in his pension in that
He offers everything he has to
King George III
..for £20,000.
George pounced.
His booty - portraits by
Rosalba Carriera
..36 Italian landscapes by
Francesco Zuccarelli
..and this masterpiece of
by the Dutch artist
Johannes Vermeer.
Then, it was wrongly attributed to a
different painter,
yet today it is one of the most
famous paintings in the collection.
However, the cream of Consul Smith's
collection was his 50 Canaletto
So deceptively lifelike, they might
almost be forerunners of
But let me tell you a secret,
Canaletto's pictures aren't quite
what they seem.
The artist's early career was
painting theatre scenery.
And there is more than a touch of
stagecraft to his images.
If you put yourself in the place
suggested by the viewpoint,
for example, of this picture,
Canaletto has made all kinds of
artful adjustments.
The details are all there.
Here's the great column with
San Teodoro.
In the background, Santa Maria della
Salute, the church.
To the left, the Customs House with
the great gold ball on the top.
But the scale relationships between
those objects have been altered by
Canaletto. He has got rid of that
expanse of dead space separating the
monastery section of the church
from the Customs House.
In his vision, they actually abut
one another.
He has reduced the height of the
He's reduced the height of the
Marciana Library.
And he has got rid of this column
But why has he done it? I think to
achieve a kind of perfected version
of the city. A vision of Venice that
you might form in your mind's eye,
a perfect memory.
Consul Smith had collected together
a lifetime's worth of these perfect
Venetian memories.
George now owned something truly
Ha! Wow!
Never fails to take my breath away.
The world's greatest collection of
George hung these pictures pride of
in the newly bought Buckingham
The ruler of a forward-looking
empire was making, I think,
a symbolic point.
The King was alive to the way in
which his nation identified with
Why did Britain feel itself to be
..almost a brother to Venice during
the 18th century?
Well, I think it's because Britain,
as Venice HAD been,
was a great maritime nation.
And just as Venice had
established itself as a great
maritime power,
looking out with trade,
looking away from mainland Italy,
Venice didn't feel itself to be part
of mainland Italy.
Ours was a nation that
..had turned its back on Continental
Catholic Europe,
had turned its back on France and
Spain and was looking to trade to
make its fortune,
to forge its empire.
Britannia wants to rule the waves,
just as Venice once HAD ruled the
Maritime superiority required the
finest navigation.
Ships could pinpoint their exact
global location using
complex calculations.
But for this to work, sailors needed
to know the time and accurately.
The greatest empire would be the one
with the greatest clocks
and the British king had the
greatest of all.
He even helped design it.
So, Paul, I think it's quite
appropriate that there he is
looking down
at us from the wall, George III,
and we are talking,
I think, about one of his
very favourite objects.
In fact, if he had to come back now
and choose his favourite object in
the Royal Collection as it is today,
it might be this clock.
It may well be that clock.
I think Ah, what a lovely tone.
They are glorious bells.
The whole clock is a beautiful
I don't think they have spared
anything in its construction.
It is more than a clock,
that's for sure.
Yeah, it's more than just a
timepiece, yes.
It gives you positions of the
The left-hand dial also turns in
sidereal time, star time.
So if you were able to look up into
the heavens and it were dark,
it depicts what you should see in
the heavens at this time.
The actual design, the drawing of
..Ursa Major, these wonderful beasts
that we see, Cancer the Crab
They are all traced in the most
fantastically delicate filigree
in enamel.
It's remarkable.
I'm very curious
about this painted scene behind the
minute and the hour hands.
Well, there's an artificial horizon.
And at sunrise, the sun, along with
the hour hand,
appear behind this artificial
How amazing. And that horizon moves
up and down with
the seasons of the year.
If you had to say what his passion
was, George III, watches,
clocks, that would certainly be
pretty high up on the list.
Absolutely, yeah. He was taking all
of the technologies of the day and
incorporating them into this
A serious man, George loved books.
His library was world-class.
This king, who has been remembered
as mad,
was actually an man of reason.
And in this era, if there was a
boundary, science,
liberty and philosophy were pushing
against it.
And the boundaries were physical,
The British were exploring whole new
swathes of the globe.
Captain Cook mapped Australia
and the East India Company governed
much of India.
And George, who never left England,
had all these exotic worlds brought
to his royal armchair.
As his new subjects vied for
the King was showered with gifts.
In Windsor Castle's print room is a
remarkable present sent via the
Governor General of India.
It's one of the wonders of the
Royal Collection Trust's Emily
Hannam unpacked it for me.
So, we have to think ourselves back
to the court of George III
and a rather intriguing object.
So, Emily, what is it?
Well, this magnificent manuscript is
called the Padshahnama.
Now, Padshahnama translates as
"the book of emperors".
And the emperor in question is the
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
He commissioned this text as a
celebration of his reign and his
But here we have some of its 42
beautiful illustrations.
Fantastic. So it's a 17th-century
That's right. Given at the end of
the 18th century.
Just under 150 years later.
To my eye
..these are absolutely at the
These are some of the finest Mughal
paintings in existence
They are. ..I would say.
It's not just a
They must to be because they're
just astonishing.
The carpet,
you can't imagine how anybody could
paint anything that finely.
I'm having to hold the magnifying
The textiles are magnificent.
Where would they get the hairs for
their brushes?
Were they using squirrel hair or?
Well, it's suggested that for the
finest brushes they actually plucked
the hairs out of the necks of baby
But whether that's true or not,
I don't know.
It's It's such a bizarre
hypothesis that it's probably true.
Probably true.
And what's going on here?
Oh, I like this.
This is an action scene.
This is They have been watching
an elephant fight,
and then suddenly one of the
elephants breaks free and charges
at Prince Aurangzeb.
But rather than running away in
fear, he holds his own.
Goodness. I love the poor guy on top
of the elephant.
Yes He's sort of the driver
who has lost control of his car.
Well, what's happened,
he has dropped this log.
The intention being that it will
trip up the elephant, so he'll stop
running, but it hasn't worked.
It's almost like an anchor.
Yes. This is Blimey!
This is the one that perhaps excites
me the most.
Me too. Visually, it's just a
stunning composition.
This is my favourite of all of the
paintings in this manuscript. Oh,
I'm glad you said that. Really?
Oh, I'm glad you said that.
It really is.
And this says, "Do not mess with the
Ah! So what we have here
I've just seen
Oh, that's horrible!
This is an Afghan general, who did
not support Shah Jahan's succession
to the Mughal throne. That is not an
Afghan general, it's an ex-Afghan
general. Very much an ex one!
So this is Shah Jahan's armies
cutting off their heads
so they can be sent back
as trophies.
I mean, that is
seriously hard-core.
But then, if you look at the detail
the gold on the horse's armour
it has been punched with a very
blunt needle to give that shimmering
texture. That's amazing. But it
makes for such a horrible
I mean, astonishing, compelling
contrast between the
Beauty and finesse.
Yes, the beauty and the wealth and
the power and the uprightness of
those who have won
and the utter, utter defeat of
these blobby, decapitated heads.
And this is your favourite picture
out of the whole manuscript.
George loved precision.
Did the fine detail of these
buzzing flies appeal?
We know that he collected less
more scientific depictions of
Their creator was a woman,
Maria Merian,
who not only decoded the intricacies
of science,
but presented her findings in
lavishly illustrated books.
The fragility of a Surinam
butterfly's life cycle,
revealed in glorious colour.
At the Queen's Gallery in Edinburgh,
natural history illustrator
Cath Hodsman
explains why she feels Merian should
be a remembered as the godmother of
modern scientific illustration.
So, tell me, what's actually going
What are we looking at? Well, it's
what Maria is actually best known
She was passionate about insects,
she had been from a very early age,
and officially started studying them
from aged 13,
would you believe? At a time when it
was thought that insects were in
league with the devil. Anything that
we didn't understand,
we thought must be evil.
And it was commonly thought
that insects were actually spawned
from mud every year.
And she thought they were so
beautiful they couldn't be
in league with the devil,
that was impossible.
They did disappear at the end of
every day, at the end of every year,
but where do they go and why?
She was part of a very small set of
scientists who had catalogued and
kind of discovered the metamorphic
life cycle.
But what made her
so different was the fact that she
was able to paint it and bring the
whole process alive,
and then disseminate that
information to the rest of the
She is taking this great scientific
discovery out of the small coterie
of those who know Absolutely.
..and making it available for the
rest of the world.
Yeah, for the common man. Yeah.
Merian took the illustrations from
her book Metamorphosis and made
just two luxury hand-painted velum
copies of its prints.
George bought one of them.
It wouldn't be right not to look at
one of her butterfly pictures
because that, after all, is what
she is really known for.
She wanted to convey beauty in the
natural world and that is one level,
but also she was a scientist,
so she wanted to convey detail.
She would take specimens and kill
them, prepare them, dry them.
And then she would pore over
Millimetre by millimetre,
by millimetre,
looking at every single thing.
You can't stress enough how that,
you know,
that This was an age of
exploration, but it was men doing
most of the exploring. Men, yes.
She is a woman. She is so determined
and fascinated by her subject that
she is just going to cross all of
the boundaries.
She is going to do it.
"This is what I'm interested in."
She is totally unique.
During his reign, George fulfilled
one of his father Frederick's
He created the Royal Academy of
a school for artists, and a showcase
for their talents.
The Academy's 1783 exhibition showed
a new intimate style of royal
portraiture, from the Apollo of the
Palace - Thomas Gainsborough.
Today, these portraits hang at
Windsor Castle,
in the same configuration chosen for
them two centuries ago.
Is it just me or are they a little
like Maria Merian's butterflies?
A family studied at different stages
of metamorphosis?
From children just out of the
chrysalis king butterfly and his queen.
This isn't so much a royal portrait
as a mosaic of royal portraits.
And what it shows us is the King and
his Queen, George III and Charlotte,
who by this time, 1782,
has already had 14 children,
so no wonder she looks pale
and a little bit drawn.
But what a departure from
traditional state royal portraiture.
Now there is no composition at
no palace, no sense that they exist
above us.
Now you are looking at family and
the strangeness with which family
resemblance seems to work and
I think my favourite row has to be
the bottom one.
It's in painting really young
children, I think, that Gainsborough
comes into his own because he is
such a fresh,
spontaneous, humane painter.
And I love the way that he paints
the contrast between the rather
formal dress that these royal
children are wearing and their
awkward, eternally childish
Octavius, in particular,
is a masterpiece of a portrait.
Look at that face.
It's absolutely wonderful.
There is a sad postscript to the
story of these portraits.
Shortly after his sitting,
four-year-old Octavius was given a
smallpox inoculation by his
Enlightenment parents.
But within weeks, he was dead.
A short-lived royal butterfly.
King George was devastated.
He said, "There will be no heaven
for me if Octavius is not there."
Under George, the Royal Collection
had reached out to encompass new
worlds - emotional, geographical,
But while his countrymen were
expanding the boundaries of empire,
the King himself embraced evermore
humble surroundings,
like Kew Palace,
here in Kew Gardens,
a place where majesty could be put
on pause.
The first thing that strikes you
about Kew Palace is just how
un-palatial it is. How simple it is.
Look at this plain brown furniture.
Remember, this was the place that
George and Charlotte chose to come
to when they wanted to be away from
the eyes of the world,
when they wanted to be, so to speak,
man and woman rather than king and
And I think the simplicity of the
house's interiors reflects their
genuine belief in one of the
principal tenets of Enlightenment
The most advanced people live in the
most straightforward, natural way.
And you can see that reflected in
the straightforward, fresh,
natural portraits that they
from the likes of Gainsborough of
their children.
It's also reflected
in George's public persona -
no nonsense, no frills.
This is a poignant room, too.
In 1801, George suffered a severe
bout of his recurrent so-called
The story goes that one of his
in order to distract George,
to take his attention away from what
the other doctors were doing, said,
"Could you tell me about this
picture of van Dyck by Nogari?"
And as the King began his
disquisition, the doors were shut
and he was confined.
Eventually, George's illness took
hold for good.
He died in 1820.
George III's reign had seen the
collection fill whole palaces
and cross continents.
Thanks to his influence,
the Royal Collection had truly
blossomed during the Enlightenment.
Next time, meet the Byron, the
the Wagner of all royal collectors.
The outrageous, magnificent,
decadent George IV.
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