Mobile menu

Charles II: Art & Power opens at The Queen's Gallery, London

Release date: Friday, 8 December 2017


A new exhibition at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace explores the rich material world of Charles II and how the visual and decorative arts were used by the King to reinforce his legitimacy as a monarch after a decade of Republican rule.  Charles II: Art & Power includes over 220 paintings, drawings, books and works of art from the Royal Collection. 

When Charles II took to the thrones of England and Ireland in 1660, he ordered new royal regalia and crown jewels to be made to replace those sold off or melted down by the Parliamentarians.  An intricate silver-gilt mace almost 1.4 metres in length is among a number of pieces made for the King's 1661 coronation.

Portraits of Charles II served to bolster his image as a righteous and powerful head of state. The Sea Triumph of Charles II, c.1674 was presented to the King as a trial piece by Italian painter Antonio Verrio, who was subsequently commissioned to decorate the newly built State Apartments at Windsor Castle. 

The new King furnished his palaces with an outstanding collection of paintings, many of which remain highlights of the Royal Collection today.  Charles purchased a group of 72 pictures from William Frizell, a picture dealer in Breda, including Pieter Bruegel the Elder's The Massacre of the Innocents, c.1565–7. Charles also recovered much of his father's celebrated art collection via the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion passed in August 1660, which included A Sibyl by Orazio Gentileschi, c.1635–8 and Michiel van Miereveld's A bearded old Man with a Shell, c.1606. 

Charles sought to re-establish a visual culture at court, conveying his authority through impressive buildings and opulent furnishings, such as a table covered with embossed silver sheets and his cypher which would have been the height of royal fashion.  The 'Windsor Beauties', sumptuous oil paintings by Sir Peter Lely, show women at court in a fashionable state of undress, including Charles's mistress Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland, who bore the king five children.

Charles II: Art & Power is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 8 December – 13 May 2018