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George IV's coronation attire, including the Diamond Diadem, goes on display

Release date: Friday, 15 November 2019

Image of the Diamond Diadem

The Diamond Diadem ©

George IV: Art & Spectacle has opened at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace. Marking the 200th anniversary in 2020 of the Monarch’s ascent to the throne, the exhibition explores the life and passions of George IV and reunites for the first time items that were commissioned and worn by the King at his famously flamboyant coronation at Westminster Abbey, London, in 1821.

The coronation was the most spectacular moment of George’s life and came at a cost of more than £240,000. The King wore, among other items of clothing, a crimson velvet surcoat and a stole made from cloth of silver, gold thread and silk. The Imperial State Crown, traditionally remade for the coronation of each new monarch, was set with more than 12,300 diamonds that had been hired for the occasion. George wanted to keep the crown after the ceremony, but Parliament refused to support the cost. The King therefore commissioned a gilt-bronze cast of the Imperial State Crown, which is on public display for the first time.

The Diamond Diadem, designed for George IV’s coronation by the jewellers Rundell Bridge & Rundell, is set with 1,333 diamonds, including a four-carat pale yellow brilliant. The Diamond Diadem has been regularly worn by queens regnant and consorts ever since, and today Her Majesty The Queen wears the circlet to and from the State Opening of Parliament.

At the coronation banquet, works were displayed from the Grand Service, an unrivalled 4,000-piece collection of dining and buffet silver-gilt that George first commissioned when Prince of Wales and is still used today at State Banquets. A spectacular silver-gilt tray by goldsmith Paul Storr for Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, weighing over 9kg and engraved with the Royal Arms and the Prince of Wales’s coronet, was put on show prominently behind the King.  

George acquired works of art with abandon to decorate his residences, and these remain some of the greatest items in the Royal Collection. In 1811, he purchased Rembrandt’s The Shipbuilder and his Wife for 5,000 guineas, the most expensive painting he ever acquired. One of his most prized possessions was Landscape with Saint George & the Dragon by Peter Paul Rubens. The painting was first acquired by Charles I and sold after his execution, before being purchased by George in 1814.  

Throughout his reign, George’s conspicuous spending and extramarital affairs made him a prime target for the satirists of the day. However, he himself acquired many works that gently poked fun at his misdemeanours. These include the etching The Golden Apple, or the Modern Paris by Thomas Rowlandson, which shows the Prince of Wales choosing which of three women to lavish his attentions on. Other prints in circulation were far more critical, such as Robert Seymour’s The Great Joss and his Playthings, which condemns the King’s tastes for exotic luxuries and his obsession with building and improving royal residences at great cost.

On the one hand, George was a recklessly profligate showman, who had little regard for the hardships suffered by the rest of the country, and on the other, he was a connoisseur with intellectual interests, whose passion for collecting left a great artistic legacy. Through more than 300 works from the Royal Collection, George IV: Art & Spectacle sheds new light on this monarch of extreme contrasts.                                                                             

George IV: Art & Spectacle is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, 15 November 2019 – 3 May 2020.                 

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