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Bartholomeus van Bassen (Antwerp c.1590-The Hague 1652)

The King and Queen of Bohemia dining in Public c.1634

Oil on panel | 55.3 x 86.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 402967

Lord Darnley’s Bedchamber , Palace of Holyroodhouse

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  • The Elector Palatine, Frederick V (1596-1632), succeeded his father in 1610 and in 1613 married Princess Elizabeth (1596-1662), daughter of James I. In 1619 he accepted the crown of Bohemia and, after a single winter's reign (for which reason he is known as the 'Winter King'), was defeated by Emperor Ferdinand II and driven into exile in Holland. Charles I paid out regularly to maintain his sister and brother-in-law's court at The Hague and was devastated by Frederick's death in 1632.

    Van Bassen was born in Antwerp but migrated to the Northern Netherlands in 1622 and worked for the rest of his career in The Hague. He was one of a small group of artists who at this date specialised in fantastic palace interiors and courtyards, with a precise perspective learned from the treatise of Hans Vredeman de Vries. These types of scenes allow the viewer to enjoy the spacious elegance of the architecture and to laugh disapprovingly at the careless extravagance and affectation of these peacock revellers. Van Bassen was also commissioned by the States of Utrecht in 1629 to transform the Convent of St Cunerakerk into a palace for the King of Bohemia, described in 1641 by Evelyn as 'a neate, & well built Palace, or Country house, built after the Italian manner'.

    The circumstances of the creation of this painting are somewhat conjectural. Another version of this composition which appeared on the art market in the 1970s is signed and dated 1634; a derivation by van Bassen's pupil, Gerrit Houchgeest, showing Charles I dining is dated 1635 (Royal Collection, CW 87, 402966). These two facts suggest that this painting was created on or around 1634, two years after Frederick's death. The episode depicted would seem to be taking place during the Dutch exile in 1630-2, when Frederick was still alive and his eldest son, Prince Charles Louis (1617-80), was in his early teens (the age he appears here). The architecture is imaginary; Van Bassen may have been involved in designing the real interior in which they lived, but his special talent lies in creating something much more splendid in paint. In the same way it did not occur to Houchgeest to copy Whitehall Palace if he visited London or request drawings of it if he did not for his painting of Charles I dining in public (CW 87, 402966); his imagination (and the model provided by his master in this painting) can furnish Charles I with a virtual dining hall far surpassing reality.

    Van Bassan's painting is a nostalgic and fanciful evocation of the splendour of the exiled King, in an appropriately grand setting and with all the formality of public state dining. There is an F E monogram in the ceiling; a painting of a patriarch blessing his son and statues of Prudence and Peace (encouraging commerce) above the mantle. Everything celebrates the glory, wisdom and virtue of a rule that never happened.
    Signed lower left: 'B. van Bassen'

    The painting appears in Pyne's illustrated 'Royal Residences' of 1819, hanging in the King's Writing Closet at Hampton Court Palace (RCIN 922133).
    Provenance

    Acquired by George II or Queen Caroline from the Countess of Pomfret in 1729

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on panel

    Measurements

    55.3 x 86.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    79.7 x 109.1 cm (frame, external)