A monumental portrait of Catherine de ‘Medici, one of the most powerful women in 16th century Europe, will return to Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham after it was purchased for the nation in lieu of taxes.
The image was originally installed in the Gothic-style mansion built by Horace Walpole, who acquired it 247 years ago, and was part of an important collection amassed by the son of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister and a pivotal figure. in the XVIII century. society and arts.
The 1561 painting is historically unique as the only surviving contemporary portrait of Catherine, queen consort of King Henry II of France, and a renowned patron of the arts. Three of his sons became kings of France.
Its public acquisition has been made possible by the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, run by the Arts Council, which pays £ 1 million in tax.
The image, an oil on canvas measuring 198 x 137.2 cm, is an imposing group portrait of Catherine de ‘Medici with four of her 10 children. She is shown with her arm around and holding the hand of Charles IX, her third son, who was crowned King of France in 1560, at just 10 years old, and for whom he acted as regent for the first three years of his reign. An inscription at the base of the painting indicates that he was “eleven years old.”
Also included are his brother, the future King Henry III, Duke of Anjou; his sister, Marguerite de Valois, future queen of Navarre; and François-Hercule, Duke of Anjou and Alençon.
Dr. Silvia Davoli, curator of Strawberry Hill House, said Catherine’s gestures are highly symbolic as she simultaneously presents the young monarch and holds him protectively close to her, reflecting the substantial influence she had on life. French politics and control and guidance. exercised over the government of his son. It also shows the bond between family members: they are close and alike.
The painting is attributed to the workshop of François Clouet, an important portraitist for the French court. It is unclear how such an important painting in French history ended up in the UK.
Walpole, who was fascinated by the Italian and French Renaissance, its protagonists and great art, bought it for £ 25, a considerable sum, in Hertfordshire from then-county deputy Thomas Plumer Byde. The two men may have known each other as members of the Society for the Promotion of Art, Manufacturing and Commerce.
Davoli said: “Thomas was the grandson of the first Thomas Byde … who was a member of parliament under Charles II. I wonder if Catherine’s painting came with him to the family. In fact, his name appears on a list of members of parliament who were bribed by Louis XIV to prevent a separate peace between England and the Dutch republic. The French ambassador describes Byde as “very wealthy and with great credit”, as well as the recipient of the sum of 300 guineas for his services to the King of France. Did Byde get anything else besides the money?
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism