Spelthorne Hundred: Hampton Court Palace, pictures

Pages 379-380

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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The pictures in the State Apartments are chiefly remarkable as a collection made for all the kings of England since Henry VIII, by men of widely differing tastes, opportunities and knowledge. It is perhaps inevitable that a royal gallery should include more portraits than any other kind of picture-the 'king's painter' is almost invariably a portrait painter-and this adds to the interest of the series at Hampton Court. Contemporary portraits of historical personages have their own value apart from their artistic merits, and more than a third of these pictures are such portraits.

There are also a considerable number of old Italian pictures, chiefly by the less-known painters, whose works are rarely seen in England. (fn. 1) Among these may be mentioned two by Correggio, a 'Holy Family with St. James' (no. 430), (fn. 2) 'St. Catherine Reading' (no. 429), and 'A Shepherd with a Pipe,' said to be by Giorgione (no. 113), which Miss Logan considers 'the most precious picture at Hampton Court.'

Henry VIII began the collection, with some paintings on wood, (fn. 3) by Anthony Toto (Toto del Nunziato), but these no longer remain. Among the Tudor pictures are twenty which are said to have been painted by Holbein, but only three of them are recognized as genuine by the experts. (fn. 4) They are the portraits of 'Lady Vaux' (no. 270), and 'John Reskemeer (no. 265), of which the original drawings are at Windsor Castle; and the portrait of 'Frobenius Erasmus,' printer (no. 280), but the authenticity of the last is doubtful. The other pictures, which are of Holbein's school, are none the less interesting, especially those representing historical subjects, such as 'The Meeting of Henry VIII and the Emperor Maximilian' (no. 445), the 'Battle of the Spurs' (no. 452), and the 'Field of the Cloth of Gold' (no. 455). (fn. 5) There is also the well-known group of Henry VIII and his family in the cloisters at Hampton Court, with Will Somers the Jester and 'Jane the Fool' in the background (no. 453); there are also several portraits of Henry, notably one said to be by Jost van Cleeg (no. 269), of Edward VI, Elizabeth and Mary, of Francis I (no. 264), and others of the period. The little copy of 'Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York' (no. 271) was painted by Rémee van Lemput in 1667, from the famous fresco by Holbein at Whitehall, destroyed by the fire in 1698. There are several portraits of Queen Elizabeth, notably one in fancy dress, said to be by Zucchero (no. 309); (fn. 6) a startling allegorical picture of the queen with Minerva, Juno, and Venus by De Heere (no. 250), and two very characteristic portraits in all her glory of jewelled headdress, lace ruff, and wonderful strings of pearls; one is said to be by Zucchero (no. 320), and one by Mark Gerrard (no. 619), (fn. 7) which represents her as an old woman, and is said to be her last portrait. There are also some comparatively inferior portraits of the statesmen of her reign, Walsingham, Leicester, Sir Nicholas Bacon, and Charles Howard, Earl of Nottingham. James I did not add much to the glory of the royal picture gallery; there is a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, a copy by Mytens, and one or two of James himself and of Queen Anne of Denmark; two are by Vansomer (no. 515 and no. 521). There is also a fine portrait of the first Duke of Buckingham, by Janssen (no. 57). Charles I attempted to form a collection which could worthily be called 'royal.' The greater number of pictures at Hampton Court, including the best Italian examples, are from his 'gallery,' though many were scattered and lost during the Commonwealth. The equestrian portrait of Charles himself (no. 85) is probably from Vandyck's studio, and is a copy of the famous picture at Windsor. The only genuine work by Vandyck is a portrait of Mrs. Lemon (no. 317); and the only example of Rubens is a 'Diana and her Nymphs Reposing after the Chase,' in which the animals and background were painted by Snyders.

In 1628 Charles acquired the famous gallery of the Dukes of Mantua, including Mantegna's nine great cartoons, which form the most valuable part of the Hampton Court collection, and hang in the 'Communication Gallery' (or Mantegna Gallery) on the west side of the Fountain Court. They were painted (on twilled linen in tempera) by Mantegna for Ludovico Gonzago, Duke of Mantua, begun in 1486 and finished in 1492. They are said to have originally decorated a gallery in the duke's Palace of St. Sebastian, Mantua, and have been enthusiastically appreciated by many connoisseurs, (fn. 8) but are now much out of repair; it is said that they were coarsely repainted by Laguerre in the reign of William III.

It must not be supposed that all the pictures collected by Charles I hung originally at Hampton Court, where the great rooms which now contain some of them had not been built; they were divided, as the art treasures of the Crown are still divided, among the various dwellings of the sovereign. The king's pictures, sold after his death 'by order of the Parliament,' realized £38,000; the sale lasting about five years. From Hampton Court 382 pictures were disposed of for nearly £5,000; among them Mantegna's 'Triumph' was valued at £1,000, but was saved by Cromwell, who also saved the great Raphael cartoons, for which Wren afterwards built a special gallery. (fn. 9) A certain number of the pictures were returned to Charles II by the States of Holland, from the collection of Van Reynot, who had purchased them at the sale.

The portraits of the Restoration period are wellknown, and the collection of Lely's 'Beauties,' now in the 'King's State Bedchamber,' is famous. Kneller's portraits of Queen Mary's ladies were painted in emulation of the earlier set, and are more dignified, but far stiffer and less beautiful; the large allegorical picture of William III landing at Margate in 1697 (no. 29) hangs in 'William the Third's Presence Chamber,' Pope's satirical lines perhaps describe it adequately:

'And great Nassau, to Kneller's hand decreed, To fix him graceful on the bounding steed.'

Queen Mary collected about twenty pictures by Baptiste, the well-known flower-painter of his time, and there are also a great many pictures of the German, Flemish, and Dutch schools. The collection of historical portraits by Benjamin West, chiefly of George II, George III and their families, formerly at the palace, (fn. 10) has been removed to Kensington Palace.

The paintings of Verrio and Laguerre on ceilings and staircases have already been described. Their 'meretricious magnificence' hardly suits the taste of the present day, but John Evelyn admired the work of Verrio enough to compare it with that of Raphael. The death-blow to his shortlived fame was given by Pope's couplet:

'On painted ceilings you devoutly stare, Where sprawl the saints of Verrio and Laguerre.'

Two paintings of the palace hang in the lobby of 'Cardinal Wolsey's Closet'; one is a view of the old east front, showing the avenues and canal made by Charles II in 1665, by Danckers; the other is a drawing of the south front in 1558, after Wynegaarde.


  • 1. See Mary Logan, The Italian Pictures at Hampton Court.
  • 2. The numbers are given from Mr. Law's New Authorized Historical Catalogue, 1907, but the pictures are constantly moved and changed.
  • 3. The pictures painted on panel representing scenes in the 'Passion of Our Lord,' which hang in 'Cardinal Wolsey's Closet,' are possibly by Toto del Nunziato.
  • 4. Law, The Royal Gallery of Hampton Court, Introd. p. xx.
  • 5. These can all be identified from the inventory of Henry's possessions, made after his death and now in the British Museum.
  • 6. Mr. Law suggests that this is more probably a portrait of Arabella Stuart; Cat. of Pictures, 65.
  • 7. Formerly no. 619, it has been removed, but apparently not re-numbered.
  • 8. See various authorities quoted in Law, op. cit. 275.
  • 9. They are now in the South Kensington Museum.
  • 10. They are included in Law, Royal Gallery of Hampton Court, 1898.