In 19th century England the fact remained that Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, consort to Queen Victoria, was a ‘foreign’ German prince1. Parliament had been cautious, reigning in Prince Albert’s allowance of Royal privileges, one of which included holding back the title ‘Prince Consort’ and another saw the strings to the royal purse being tightened2. Despite garnering the respect of the period’s leading men and showing a hearty enthusiasm for all matters European, the stabilisers were put on British politics, curtailing his efforts to engage fully in the boisterous London political scene. As Stewart writes ‘[H]is largely self-imposed, it must be said, political vocation in the affairs of a foreign land never sat comfortably with him’3. This reserve surrounding matters of state opened new channels for the prince, who greatly invested his energies into other available outlets. Prince Albert was a formidable patron and collector of art and his importance in this field cannot be stressed enough. Equally, he was an active participant in the development of Victorian museums – indeed, his influence spans the social, cultural and artistic life of Britain.
The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840 by George Hayter | Royal Collection Trust
A feather in Albert’s cap was the cultivation of his own personal tastes, something which corresponded to the noble branch of connoisseurship4. A worthy accolade, the young prince had taken a long tour of the great Italian cities, including the richly artistic centres of Rome, Florence, Milan and Genoa5 – something which very much aligned him with the Grand Tour. However, in the context of the nineteenth century, the prince’s taste varied, somewhat, from contemporary fashions6 of the time.
Apollo and Diana circa 1526. Oil on beech panel. Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553)
For example, Klaus Weschenfelder and Susan Foister recount the significance of Albert’s preference for early German art of the Northern line7, a nod to his own lineage and heritage. He also took a scholarly interest in Germanic theologian Martin Luther8, a key figure in the Protestant Reformation whose activity aligned with the development in early Northern painting. This conviction was supplemented by the collection of early German prints belonging to Albert’s family library9 and, by his father, Duke Ernst I of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, whose enthusiasm for the Medieval manifested itself through a decorative scheme of portraiture, architecture and furnishings at his seat10.
Raphael, The School of Athens, 1509-1511, fresco
Albert also valued the masters of early Italian painting, which circled around the Cult of Raphael11. The prince’s admiration was grounded in schemes that were ‘didactic’, ‘instructive’ and ‘cerebral’, with an underlying ‘purity of line’12. These elements were realised in Vasarian terms as the final brilliant production of the early Italian tradition, recognised at its height in the form of Raphael.
Saint Jerome in Penitence by Pietro Perugino, c. 1480-85
Albert endeavoured to collate a ‘pioneering photographic archive of the master’s painting’13 and managed to acquire pieces by Raphael’s associates, namely those conceived by the artist’s teachers, imitators and followers14. This collection included the painting Saint Jerome by Poetro Perugino (given to Albert on his birthday in 1846) and a substantial altarpiece attributed to Berto di Giovanni15. William Blundell Spence dealt Albert a piece by Fra Angelico depicting Christ Blessing and flattered the Prince’s acute interest in a letter dated 1853 where he writes that: ‘No person in England is better able to appreciate the value of the early Italian School’16.
The Virgin and Child in a Landscape, early 1520s, Albert Cornelis and Associates, Presented by Queen Victoria at the Prince Consort’s wish, 1863.
These collective works would impart Albert’s rather niche ‘primitive’ taste onto the nation17, something which would prove imperative in the reassessed considerations of this genre as valid within the art historical canon. Indeed, their assimilation into the band of works respected by the artistic community was partly owed to the bequest of Albert and Victoria at the prince’s death, when, a cross-section of works was offered to Charles Eastlake at the National Gallery in 1862. The anthology had been gifted to Prince Albert by his relation Prince Ludwig Kraft Ernst von Öttinger18 and supplementary paintings by Fra Angelico, Duccio, Daddi and Gozzoli were added. Öttinger Walestein had passed on a block of 77 early German, Italian and Netherlandish paintings with a sideline in Byzantine and Russian examples19 and the board of Trustees at the National Gallery were able to select 25 for the nation20, which provided a touchstone survey of the movement for generations to appreciate.
The collection can be found via: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/collectors/prince-albert-and-the-gallery
Part 2 of this series on Prince Albert as a Collector and Patron – Supporting the Efforts of Artists and Innovators
1J. A. Wagner, Voices of Victorian England: Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life (ABC-CLIO, 2014), p. 201. 1
2F. C. Westley, ‘Topics of the Day: Prince Albert’s “Establishment”’, The Spectator, Volume 12, 1840, p. 83.
3 J. Stewart, Albert: A Life (I.B. Taurius, 2012), p. 78.
4J. Peder Zane, ‘In Pursuit of Taste, en Masse’, nytimes.com, 11 February, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/ 4 2013/02/12/business/connoisseurship-expands-beyond-high-art-and-classical-music.html?_r=0 [accessed 2017].
5A. Banerjee, ‘The Prince Consort and his Legacy’, The Victorian Web: Literature, History & Culture in the 5 age of Victoria [n.d.], http://www.victorianweb.org/history/victoria/stewart.html [accessed 2017].
6W. Ames, ‘Prince Albert’s Taste’, History Today Volume 18 Issue 1, January, 1968, http://www.historytoday. 6 – com/winslow-ames/prince-albert’s-taste [accessed 2017].
7S. Avery-Quash, Victoria & Albert, Art & Love, Introduction (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2012), pp. 3-8.
8K. Weschenfelder, Victoria & Albert, Art & Love, Prince Albert: early encounters with art and collecting 8 (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2012), pp. 2-16.
9Avery-Quash, Introduction, pp. 3-8. 9
10Weschenfelder, Prince Albert: early encounters with art and collecting, pp. 2-16.
11 H. Rappaport, Queen Victoria: A Biographical Companion (ABC-CLIO, 2003), p. 43.
12V. Remington, Victoria & Albert, Art & Love, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their relations with artists 12 (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2012), pp. 2-16.
13Avery-Quash, Introduction, pp. 3-8.
14 ibid. 14
16L. Whitaker, Victoria & Albert, Art & Love, ‘Preparing a handsome picture frame to pattern chosen by HRH 16 The Prince’: Prince Albert frames his collection (London: Royal Collection Trust), pp. 2-28.
17‘Paintings’, Royal Collection Trust [n.d], https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/about/paintings-and- 17 miniatures/paintings [accessed 2017].
18‘Victoria & Albert: Art & Love: Symposium – published online’, The National Gallery [n.d.], https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/documents/prince-albert-and-the-gallery [accessed 10 May 2016].
19‘Avery-Quash, Introduction, pp. 3-8.