Princely Collecting

A New Royal Family | The Making of the Prince | Festivals, Masques and Tournaments | Prince Henry and the Wider World | 'Our Rising Sun is Set': the Death of Prince Henry

Pacing Horse by Pietro Tacca, after Gimbologna (Jean Boulogne), 1600 Photo: Supplied by Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012

Pacing Horse
by Pietro Tacca, after Gimbologna (Jean Boulogne), 1600
Photo: Supplied by Royal Collection Trust
© HM Queen Elizabeth II 2012

 

Collections of rare and beautiful objects were an important feature of European Renaissance courts. They were seen as reflecting the discernment, intelligence, virtue and magnificence of their owners. King James seems not to have been interested in assembling such collections for himself. Henry therefore became the focus for a group of knowledgeable courtiers who had travelled, read widely and sought to create a court in England to rival the great cultural centres of Europe.

Diplomatic exchanges, gifts from loyal followers and purchases from dealers in Britain and abroad all provided means by which Henry’s collections grew. They were primarily of paintings; sculpture; antique coins, medals and gems; and books, although he also had a collection of scientific instruments and models. Henry’s collection of paintings was one of the first in Britain not primarily composed of portraits. He acquired the first recorded collection of Renaissance sculpture in Britain and the first significant collection of antique gems and medals. Henry’s library was also remarkable. At its core was the great Elizabethan library of John, Lord Lumley, but over a thousand other volumes were added.

Like his European counterparts, Henry also patronised architects and garden designers. He built a new library and riding school at St James’s Palace and initiated a spectacular and ambitious garden at Richmond Palace. Unfortunately almost nothing of this area of his patronage survives today.