Charles II: Art & Power

Art of the restoration

When Charles II ascended the throne in 1660 after more than a decade of Puritan rule under Oliver Cromwell, his reign was characterised by a cultural resurgence championing magnificence and opulence.

Charles used art to glorify the restored monarchy, a visual signifier of his power and authority.

He collected artworks, reacquiring paintings that had belonged to his father as well as building his own collection. Just three weeks after his return to England, for example, Charles appointed the Dutch artist Peter Lely as official 'Limner and Picture Drawer' and Lely became the most fashionable portraitist in England. His series, known as the 'Windsor Beauties', included the most fashionable countesses of the day, including Barbara Villiers, the king's mistress.

Both the Restoration court and the 'Merrie Monarch' himself gained a reputation for hedonism and indulgence, which were reflected in the art and decoration of the period.

The exhibition includes extraordinary treasures such as John Michael Wright's magnificent portrait of Charles II in his coronation robes, old master paintings, tapestries, silver gilt furniture and a silver-gilt plate that adorned the high altar of Westminster Abbey at the king's coronation.

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Need to know

Running concurrently is an exhibition at the Royal Academy on Charles I's spectacular art collection, temporarily reuniting works by artists from Titian and Van Dyck to Rubens and Holbein for the first time in nearly 400 years. Charles I: King & Collector is on from 27 January  to 15 April.

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The BBC is also running a Royal Collection Season with two television series looking at the art collections of the Stuart kings, timed to coincide with the two exhibitions.

Image:
Charles II by John Michael Wright, c1676
Royal Collection Trust (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Dates

8 December 2017 - 13 May 2018

Location

Charles II: Art & Power
The Queen's Gallery
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Gate
Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1A 1AA

The exhibition has timed-entry tickets available at 15-minute intervals from 10am to 4.15pm and the gallery closes at 5.30pm every day.