The Royal Collection
The Royal Collection
Shaped by successive monarchs, a wealth of art, jewellery, books and more is held in trust by the British Crown
The United Kingdom's Royal Collection has been put together over a period of more than five centuries.
The extraordinary range of art works (oil and water colour paintings, sculptures and prints), ornaments, jewellery, furniture, books, manuscripts, armour, clothing and tapestries has been contributed to by a succession of monarchs according to their personal tastes.
The greater part of the collection dates from the latter part of the 17th century. The simple reason for this is that it began as a more or less private collection of the monarch at the time. As such, Oliver Cromwell broke much of the then collection up during his time as Lord Protector.
Whether he would have approved more now that the collection is held in trust for the public is uncertain, but no one since has dispersed the assembled pieces in quite the same way.
Despite Cromwell's actions, Charles I's influence on the collection is still in evidence, far more so than the relatively few pieces dating back to Tudor times.
The doomed King's acquisition of Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Tintoretto, Titian and Correggio was a high point for the fine art side of the collection, and between those pieces which Cromwell held back and those recovered by Charles II and others, the first part of the collection was formed.
Charles I was also a great patron of contemporaries Rubens and van Dyck, and a famous painting of Charles I by Van Dyck forms part of the collection.
Charles II would have been hard pressed to match his father's contribution to the art in the collection, though he did add a series of paintings by Holbein, notably ones of Henry VIII. However, he did bring in a vast amount of Baroque silver, forming the main part of the collection's silverware.
Many additions to the silverware were brought in by late 17th century joint rulers William and Mary. Mary also brought Delft porcelain into the collection, and William the first finely designed clocks.
King George II's queen, Caroline in turn increased the Tudor element in the collection, partly with a series of cameos which form the basis of the jewellery in the collection.
George III then made one of the largest contributions to the collection. In particular he acquired the celebrated collection of paintings and drawings, books, manuscripts, medals and gems formed by the British consul in Venice, Joseph Smith.
Above all, the King developed a library which contained the nucleus of the collection's manuscripts. Pieces suchas one of ten known copies of the beautiful Mainz Psalter - the second book after the Gutenberg Bible to be printed using moveable type (in 1457) - form the basis of this.
The collection has naturally grown substantially over the years and we cannot cover all the pieces here in explaining how its 6,399 pieces, which are distributed around Royal Palaces, all open to the public.
But it continues to grow, with many twentieth century pieces, including many jewellery pieces by Faberg comparable to those of the Russian Royal family, which proved to be a huge sensation at Sotheby's last year.
The collection continues to flourish under Queen Elizabeth II, especially in art. Recent acquisitions have included works by JMW Turner and (with Prince Philip's influence) Sidney Nolan, Barbara Hepworth, Ivon Hitchens, Russell Drysdale and Graham Sutherland.
Two of the very most recent pieces are portraits of the last Poet Laureate but one, Ted Hughes by Bob Tulloch and one of the Queen herself by Lucian Freud.
The collection continues to be a shining example of the joy which beautiful and historical pieces can bring, and whilst shaped by the particular tastes of various individuals it is now something that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Images: The Royal Collection