Published  01/03/2002

Cromwell as art enthusiast

Cromwell as art enthusiast

Only thanks to Oliver Cromwell did a very significant proportion of the art collection of King Charles I come to form the basis of the Prado Museum in Madrid. In 1649, with the king beheaded, there came the opportunity to liquidate the collection formed by Charles I and his Roman Catholic queen Henrietta Maria. Religiously inspired works such as those by Raphael, or Roman Catholic treasures such as ‘Emperor Charles V with Hound’ by Titian, found ready purchasing. The Spanish king, through his London ambassador, secured the pick of such works. Yet Cromwell, to the surprise of many contemporaries, intervened to take off the market Raphael’s cartoons of the Acts of the Apostles (today in the Victoria and Albert Museum), as well as Andrea Mantegna’s masterpiece in nine canvasses, ‘The Triumph of Caesar’ which may indeed have appealed to him personally for its martial glory. Puritan concepts of art are complex in their diversity, but remain a continuous strand in British art, running through to Beckett in the 20th century and even Creed today — not to mention Serota (as Protector, with Nairne his major-general). By 1660, on the Restoration, King Charles II’s Act of Oblivion aimed to free things up again, but by then the Prado’s collection was all ready to be enhanced by Spain’s new acquisitions from England. The Prado exhibition is entitled ‘The Sale of The Century: The Artistic Relationship between Spain and England’ (from 1604). It appears to have culminated with the 1649 acquisitions, a somewhat one-way direction. The exhibition will open 14 March and runs through June 2.

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