Skip to main content

Charles II: Art and Power

Queen’s Gallery, Edinburgh until June 2nd 2019
Four stars

When Charles II was restored to power in 1660 following the demise of Oliver Cromwell, the new king on the block made up for his nine years in the wilderness inbetween reigns by becoming a good time boy who put himself about a bit. He also did his best to buy back all the art Cromwell’s parliament had flogged off on the cheap.

Whether these events influenced Charles’ taste in art isn’t on record. Judging by some of the restoration era riches gathered here to show off the original merry monarch’s relationship with art on a personal, professional and aesthetic level, Charles certainly had a darker side. Beyond the self-deification, propaganda and pure glamour-chasing pleasure, the presence of no less than three paintings of biblical beheadings suggests a fondness for grand gestures of a decapitatory kind. Elsewhere, Sir Peter Lely’s ten portrait series, The Windsor Beauties, show off Charles’ assorted rosy-cheeked mistresses, plus his presumably indulgent wife, Catherine of Braganza, lined up in portraits that resemble a restoration version of Hello magazine.

While one can’t help but fall for the majesty of Antonio Verrio’s magnificently overblown and not a little camp The Sea Triumph of Charles II, in which the king looks every inch the pop star monarch, there was political skullduggery at play too. This is clear from Paolo Veronese’s The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine of Alexandria, part of the so-called ‘Dutch Gift’, essentially a major backhander of paintings, sculptures and a yacht designed to appease the king, only for the two countries to end up scrapping again within a couple of years.

Charles II wasn’t the first member of the establishment to try and use an artistic veneer as a political tool to beautify the nation(s) and lend the set-up they front some credibility, and he’s certainly not the last. As with all of them, and as the last part of the exhibition shows, legacy is everything, and, if handled right, will still be paying dividends long after the old order has fallen. 

The List, December 2018


Popular posts from this blog

The Art School Dance Goes On Forever – Snapshots Of Masters Of The Multiverse

Intro – Snapshots – Deaf School


In 1980, the same year as the Manchester band, Magazine, released a 7
inch single called A Song From Under The Floorboards – a three verse
and chorus distillation of Dostoyevsky's novel, Notes From Underground
– an art school scandal occurred.

This scandal took place in Liverpool, and was based around a project
called the Furbelows, although it became better known in the Liverpool
Echo and other organs that reported it as the Woolly Nudes.

The Furbelows, or Woolly Nudes, were a group of artists who had come
out of Liverpool College of Art, who, dressed in grotesque woolly
costumes which featured knitted approximations of male and female
genitalia, made assorted public interventions around the city centre as
kind of living sculptures acting out assorted narratives.

The Furbelows project had been funded by what was then Merseyside Arts
Association, and, after the participants were arrested and taken to
court on obscenity charges after what…

Peter Brook – The Prisoner

Peter Brook is no stranger to Scotland, ever since the guru of European and world theatre first brought his nine-hour epic, The Mahabharata, to Glasgow in 1988. That was at the city’s old transport museum, which by 1990 had become Tramway, the still-functioning permanent venue that opened up Glasgow and Scotland as a major channel for international theatre in a way that had previously only been on offer at Edinburgh International Festival.
Brook and his Paris-based Theatre des Bouffes du Nord company’s relationship with Tramway saw him bring his productions of La Tragedie de Carmen, La Tempete, Pellease et Mellisande, The Man Who…, and Oh Les Beaux Jours – the French version of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – to Glasgow.
Thirty years on from The Mahabharata, Brook comes to EIF with another piece of pan-global theatre as part of a residency by Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, which Brook has led since he decamped to Paris from London in the early 1970s. The current Edinburgh residency has alr…

Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe Comes to Glasgow

Open-air Shakepeares are a summer-time perennial of the theatre calendar, attracting picnicking audiences as much as midges. More often than not, such romps through the grass are frothy, heritage industry affairs designed to be accompanied by strawberries and cream and not to be taken too seriously. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company look set to change such perceptions when they open their outdoor tour of Romeo And Juliet in Glasgow next week as part of the West End festival.

For the two young actors taking the title roles of the doomed lovers, it will also be something of a homecoming. Richard Madden and Ellie Piercy both studied in Glasgow prior to turning professional. Indeed, Madden has yet to graduate from the acting course at RSAMD, and, as well as facing the pressures of playing such a meaty role in close proximity to the audience, will have the added anxiety of being assessed and graded by his tutors.

“This is the end of my third year,” says Madden following a Saturday mornin…