By way of introducing a new course on 17th century art collectors I’ve got in the pipeline, here’s a short post on one of them- Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel. More details soon.
“In reality the objects coveted by the collector express his eternal pursuit of himself. Supremely unsociable by nature, the collector has no self-confidence apart from his conquests, which recall the moments when he has to some extent mastered his fate.”
Pierre Cabanne, The Great Collectors, 1961.
This description of a collector might fit the subject of this post, Thomas Howard, the 21st Earl of Arundel (1584- 1646) quite well. A lonely child whose friends were books, and who grew up separated from his father who languished in the Tower of London because Queen Elizabeth could not bear to have him executed, Arundel developed a melancholy personality. This emerges in Peter Paul Rubens’s (about 1636) wonderful portrait of Arundel who is captured in three-quarter view; he stares sternly into space deep in thought,- a study in stoic introspection. One of his biographers said that “he was a man who lived always within himself” and this could be applied to the character of the man in this painting.
You only have to compare Arundel’s portrait with one of the other main collectors in the circle of Charles I (the book to read is Francis Haskell’s The King’s Pictures, Yale, 2014) George Villiers the Duke of Buckingham,(1592-1628) again portrayed by Rubens, to get an inkling of a completely different collector. Buckingham is all swagger with his absurdly styled moustache, tousled hair and haughty stare. His world was one of externals: masques, balls, battles, and the glory of Charles I’s court. Arundel couldn’t have been more different: he missed out on a courtier’s position due to his dour disposition, and partly because of his dislike of the pomp of the Stuart court. Arundel might have had a court career as he got on well with Charles’s brother Henry, but sadly the prince died of fever in 1612. Shocked by this, Arundel returned from the continent, and though ambitious of high office, realized he was not really courtier material. Arundel slowly began to withdrew from court thus earning the displeasure of the King, though they would be reconciled after Buckingham’s assassination in 1628. It is uncanny how Rubens has caught the different personalities of the two courtiers, both of whom he knew, in these likenesses.
Though not a scholar, Thomas Howard attracted men of learning; he could boast the friendship of men like the architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) with whom he travelled in Italy in 1613. It is not well known that Jones began as a painter so he was able to point out to Arundel renaissance masterpieces like Raphael’s St Cecilia altarpiece in Parma, as well as introduce him to the work of architects like Palladio. Thus, Arundel educated himself about art and cultivated the quality of virtù, something that is quite alien to today’s collectors who mainly collect as a financial investment. Virtù as David Haworth explains (the book to read is his Lord Arundel and his Circle, Yale, 1985) after its initial appearance in the realpolitik of Machiavelli with its martial associations was softened; virtù “gathered to it a connotation of civility, grace and manners as the attributes of a learning lightly carried.” Compare this with Buckingham who used collecting as a substitute for warfare, even arrogantly trying to annex the Mona Lisa. By contrast, Arundel exercised patience which was more suited to the waiting game he played with dealers and potential buyers. This paid off handsomely in 1618 when from the Postmaster of Antwerp he obtained the portrait of the Archbishop of Besancon, Carondolet and his secretaries. Arundel thought it was a Raphael though it is now established as a picture that the Venetian Sebastiano del Piombo did after arriving in Rome. Perhaps Arundel could be excused for mistaking it for a Raphael, but his other error of seeing the shadowy figure at the back as a self-portrait of the young renaissance master is not so easily overlooked.
One painter that will forever be associated with Arundel is Hans Holbein the Younger. Though Holbein’s true potential was never really recognised by Henry VIII, his talent was welcomed by some of Henry’s courtiers, some of whom were Arundel’s ancestors. Other collectors in 17th century England owned Holbeins, though both Charles I and Buckingham were not over fond of the artist. How could Arundel not be? He inherited many of Holbein’s works; it is said that at one point he had a room full of 30 oils by the artist and by the time the Civil War broke out in the 1640s, he had amassed about 40. These included such pictures as the portrait of his Tudor ancestor, Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk (1473- 1554); and the beautiful portrait of Christina of Denmark which now hangs in the London National Gallery. Both alluring and austere, it is a wonderful example of how Holbein could balance styles and moods through his art, though to Arundel its significance was that it had come down to him through his family. This is a key point about Arundel’s collecting: it was rooted in the Howard family lineage, so his collection was a kind of living history, the visual equivalent to the books his antiquarian friends and history scholars pored over due to his patronage. Arundel was also one of the earliest courtiers to collect a large number of drawings in Europe. In 1632 Arundel’s son claimed “he chiefly affects drawings” and Arundel was proud of them- he had many engraved, not only finished work but also sketches. His favourite drawings were by Leonardo and Parmigianino; he owned a volume containing 600 drawings by Leonardo. But what visitors most admired was his collection of Holbein drawings. Only one European collection could rival Arundel: the great Swiss publishing family, the Amerbachs from whom he had unsuccessfully tried to buy Holbein’s harrowing Dead Christ.
So famous did Arundel’s collection become that he received a letter from the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II, asking him for a Holbein. While travelling with Jones in Italy, Howard had slipped unnoticed into Florence preferring to stay incognito at a monastery. However, news of the presence of a great English lord got out, and Arundel’s party were invited to Cosimo’s palace. To the surprise of their august hosts they refused, but relented after returning from Rome. Cosimo had remembered the grave English lord and his Holbeins. The Italian ruler asked for a Holbein “because I have become passionately set upon having a work by this artist.” In exchange the Duke offered him any picture by any famous Italian artist who pleased him. Very reluctantly, Arundel chose to part with the Sir Richard Southwell who had hounded to death one of the Earl’s ancestors. The Southwell portrait found later fame when it was painted in Zoffany’s Tribuna at the Uffizi.
Always one to confound expectation, Arundel asked in return for another Northern artist, not an Italian, but a German. In exchange for Holbein he received Adam Elsheimer’s Exaltation of the True Cross (Frankfurt) which marries a wealth of high renaissance influences (e.g. Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling and Titian’s Gloria) with home-grown mannerist tendencies. Sixteen years later Charles I joked that Arundel presenting a Holbein to the Grand Duke of Tuscany represented a miracle in itself since the Earl could not bear to part with his pictures. Yet it seems that Arundel may have been more canny and had a copy made as the NPG has a version of the Southwell portrait. Thus, Arundel honoured the code of virtù, but kept his collection, which reflected his family history, more or less intact. In his usual calm and methodical way, Arundel took elaborate care over the presentation of the outgoing Holbein. Before he despatched it in 1622, Arundel had an expensive new frame made to which were attached four silver cartouches: two with inscriptions referring to the artist and sitter; and two bearing the names of Cosimo and Arundel the collectors. The Elsheimer painting is a little wonder, definitely a miracolo in its own way. An interesting structure in itself, it is a tabernacle supported by Corinthian columns, surmounted by a pendant containing a large cartouche with the Medici pale or balls. It speaks volumes for Arundel’s individualistic taste that he would prefer something as curious as Elsheimer’s tabernacle to the more famous high renaissance works he could have picked.
Arundel was to leave England for good in 1642. His health was bad and he wearied of the politics and intrigues of the times; he had also seen the storm clouds of the Civil War massing on the horizon. Arundel ended his days in self-imposed exile- in Italy. He lived mostly in Padua, but also visited Parma. Sadly, Arundel’s family situation had worsened: his eldest grandson was now a lunatic and another grandson had become a Dominican monk. He was also angry at his wife who he accused of scattering his collection. To be fair to Lady Arundel, she had been put in an impossible situation: she had been reduced to poverty by the seizure of her property by Parliament in England. Dutifully, she took care of her husband’s library and maybe even had a hand in designing the “Allegory on the Death of Arundel” by Hollar from a preliminary drawing by Cornelius Schut. In this visual encomium, Arundel is shown just as he stipulated in his will- “looking upwards…leaning upon a Lyon holding an Eschocion.” Painting and Sculpture salute him, and in the foreground, allegorical personages shelter the Holbein portrait of his ancestor, his books and manuscripts. The “father of virtù” sits unperturbed. His life is at an end, but his reputation will remain illustrious and undiminished. Fittingly, as Death and Time try to pull away from him, Fame proclaims his eternal glory as he looks up, secure of his place in Collectors Heaven.
As to Cabanne’s idea of the accumulation of art reflecting the collector’s mastering of his fate? Well, collections only last so long; they are subject like their owners to loss, damage, environmental and social turbulence, – above all, collections like their owners are the victims of fortune. We must remember that in his formulation of the prince’s virtù, Machiavelli had stressed the role of Fortuna which was fickle. “Men prosper as long as policy and fortune are in accord.” And when they are not, men, nations come crashing down. Many of Arundel’s ancestors who were keen art collectors read the stoics, the philosophers who advocated reason as a bulwark against the unpredictable nature of events in human affairs. It has been argued that the neostoic movement of the 17th century was an intellectual response to the Civil Wars (the article to read is Andrew Boyle’s “Hans Eworth’s Portrait of the Earl of Arundel and the Politics of 1549-50”, English Historical Review, 2002). The stoic texts in the library at Nonsuch House, owned by Arundel’s predecessor Henry Fitzalan, were used in the service of a personal iconography uniting virtue, military heroism and stoic philosophy. When the Civil War broke across England in 1642, Arundel would need all the stoicism he could read to sustain himself far away from England. His lands and property had been confiscated, his library broken up, his art scattered to the four winds, his family a huge disappointment to him, and his King riding into ignominious defeat. No philosophy would console him for such reversals one suspects, not if the above drawing (Jan Lievens, Antwerp, 1643) is anything to go by. This is the portrait of a man who has lost everything.
More details of the course soon.