One Has Lost One's Good Taste ; VISUAL ART ++ the Art of Italy in the Royal Collection Queen's Gallery LONDON
Darwent, Charles, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Unusually, the Queen hit the headlines twice last week for what might loosely be called artistic reasons: first, the unveiling of a new royal portrait by the photographer, Annie Leibowitz; and, second, because the US public, in anticipation of Her Majesty's forthcoming American visit, appeared to have confused her with Helen Mirren. Walking around the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace, you can't help thinking: Sic transit gloria regi-narum.
For it wasn't always like this. Nowadays, the monarch's link with art adds up to the occasional grin-and-bear-it portrait. The Queen is rumoured to know her art history, which, given that she owns a great deal of it, she damn well should. But this in itself makes the Royal Collection a wistful thing, the relic of a time when princes and artists vied with each other for power, when it was possible to be both a king and a connoisseur. And nowhere do you feel this more strongly than in the Royal Collection's Italian works, the subject of a dazzling new show at the Queen's Gallery.
Take HM's 10-times-great-uncle, Charles I. Dubbed by Rubens "the greatest amateur of paintings among the princes of the world", Charles acquired, among much else, the pick of the collection of the Gonzagas of Mantua. The first act as king of his son, Charles II, was to set up a committee to recover royal paintings sold off by Cromwell. Like his father, the newly-restored monarch understood the value of images to his own image: the fact that every picture he bought was a portrait - of his power, certainly, but also of his taste and, above all, of his Italian taste.
This last mattered greatly to the Stuarts. There are various ways of looking at the Italian acquisitions in this show, but one is as a collective statement of European-ness, and especially of Catholic European-ness. The Tudor break with Rome had come at the height of the Renaissance, five years after Castiglione published The Book of the Courtier. Buying Italian art also meant buying into a Continental courtly taste from which the Stuarts had been excluded.
Thus Lorenzo Lotto's extraordinary Portrait of Andrea Odoni, whose subject holds a statuette of Diana of Ephesus in one hand and a crucifix in the other. …