The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle

The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle

The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle

The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle

Excerpt

In a volume such as this, dealing on specialized lines with Holbein's drawings in the Royal Collection, it will be well to start by giving some account of their long and adventurous wanderings, a veritable Odyssey through the centuries. Not that the relevant information were lacking elsewhere, or had hitherto only been given in a disconnected form. To justify going over the ground again, if justification indeed were needed, it would be enough to point to the many minor inaccuracies, and occasional major ones, which occur in every printed account of the drawings. Let us start therefore by dealing, as fully as space will permit, with their history, and first of all pause, for a moment at least, at the point soon after the accession of George II, when Queen Caroline discovered them, a long-forgotten treasure, in a bureau in Kensington Palace. That incident, as no other, marks a dividing line between two distinct phases of their existence. From that moment onwards the full light of modern times rests upon them, and they emerge once and for all from the absorbing, but often confused chapter of their history, during which, more than once, all recorded traces of their whereabouts fade out, and they are lost from sight for decades at a stretch.

The part played by Queen Caroline in the discovery is by no means merely legendary. It is abundantly vouched for by Vertue and others, and there is every reason to believe that it was in fact by her, at Kensington, and in 1727, that the Windsor Holbeins (then a collection bound together in form of a book) were brought to light. This familiar anecdote, nevertheless, has been romanticized and misrepresented, and needs to be seen afresh in its true perspective. The fact is that Queen Caroline found far more than she knew, in other words that she discovered far less than she found. For the contents of the bureau was not merely the one priceless treasure which concerns us here, but included the no less celebrated book of drawings by Leonardo, and many more besides by various masters. What Queen Caroline found was not a single item, mislaid or forgotten, but a collection, dating back to Stuart times . . .

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