But Catherine de Medici stands in the background of this monumental Portrait of 1561, his pose reveals his true power. Acting then as regent of France, the Italian nobleman wears black – a symbol of mourning for her late husband Henry II – and wraps her arms around her newly crowned son, Charles IX. Catherine’s firm hold on young Charles communicates her influence: in the years following her husband’s death, she effectively ruled France in her son’s place, becoming one of the most influential politicians in the world. 16th century Europe.
Horace Walpole, an 18th-century British politician, acquired the portrait as part of his extensive collection of trinkets. The only surviving contemporary painting of Catherine, the work virtually disappeared from public view in the mid-1800s, when Walpole’s heirs auctioned it off, writes Maev Kennedy for the Art journal.
Officials last week revealed that the lavish image was returned to the former Walpole House and Museum in Strawberry Hill House, a medieval-style castle in West London. Today, after nearly two centuries in private hands, this historic painting is about to be exhibited to the public. By a declaration, visitors will be able to observe the construction up close when Strawberry Hill reopens on May 17.
The anonymous owners of the portrait returned the artwork to his former home instead of paying £ 1million in taxes. As Claire Selvin reports for ART News, this program allows families to reimburse part or all of their inheritance tax by transferring heritage objects into the public domain.
As the museum notes in the statement, Walpole was a history fanatic obsessed with the Tudors, Medici, the House of Valois, and other prominent European families. Experts are not sure exactly how this French portrait got to England, but records indicate that Walpole bought it in 1742 “from a Mr. Byde Herfordshire”. The monumental work cost Walpole £ 25 – a “considerable sum” for the period, as Dalya Alberge observes for the Guardian. (Adjusted for inflation, this selling price is equivalent to nearly $ 6,000 today.)
Walpole had previously considered writing a Medici Family History – even preparing the initial research for the project in 1759 – but ultimately abandoned the project due to a lack of archival material. According to Art journal, he decorated his eccentric mansion with fireplaces, bookcases, sculpted Gothic ceilings and other fantastic elements inspired by the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. (A passionate collector, Walpole even dedicated an entire room of the house to his treasure trove of Tudor artifacts, according to the statement.)
In 1842, the Walpole estate was dismantled and dispersed in a major auction, by the Art journal. The house was restored as a museum in 2010.
As for the painting itself, experts believe it is one of the few– if not the only ones – representations of Catherine created during her lifetime. The researchers attribute the resemblance to the workshop of Francois Clouet, an eminent painter of the French court.
An inscription on the painting indicates that Charles is “in his eleventh year,” a timeline that places the work about a year after the young king’s coronation in 1560, according to the statement. Young Charles stands alongside three of his ten brothers and sisters: future King Henry III, then Duke of Anjou; Marguerite de Valois, the future queen of Navarre; and François-Hercule, Duke of Anjou and Alençon.
Born into the famous Italian banking family in 1519, Catherine wielded limited political influence as queen consort. But after that of her husband premature death in 1559, his power grew considerably. She advised his eldest son, Francis II, and his wife, Mary, Queen of Scots, during their brief reign (Francis died at age 16 after reigning for just over a year), then served as regent for Charles. When Charles died in 1574 at age 23, Catherine continued to rule on behalf of her third son, Henry.
In the decades following the creation of the 1561 portrait, Catherine oversaw the response of French royalty to the Religious wars, a series of bloody battles between French Protestants (Huguenots) and Roman Catholics. When Charles was still a young ruler, Catherine was instrumental in plotting and authorizing the murder of over 3,000 Protestant leaders in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre from 1572.
“The acquisition of this unique portrait of Catherine de ‘Medici with her children is important not only for its great intrinsic value and significance, but also because it gives us, at Strawberry Hill House, the opportunity to piece together one of the many historical tales that were the basis of Walpole’s fundraising strategies, ”says curator Silvia davoli in the statement. “This portrait tells us about Walpole’s interest in the Italian and French Renaissance, its protagonists and great art.