Whitehall Group

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The Whitehall group (or less frequently, Whitehall Circle) is a term applied to a small circle of art connoisseurs, collectors, and patrons, closely associated with King Charles I, who introduced a taste for the Italian old masters to England. The term usually includes the advisors and agents who facilitated the group's acquisition of works of art.


The term "Whitehall Group" was used by Oliver Millar in a magazine article in 1956 and subsequently in a 1958 book.[1] He used the term "Whitehall Circle" in a book published in 1971.[2] The term encompasses King Charles I himself and a number of his close associates including the Duke of Buckingham, the Earl of Arundel, the 3rd and 4th Earls of Pembroke, the Earl of Northumberland and the Duke of Hamilton. Between them, they introduced a taste for the Italian old masters to England. 16th century Italian paintings were more highly valued than Dutch pictures.[3] Arundel was perhaps the most dedicated connoisseur of the group, whilst Hamilton may have taken an interest in art collecting simply to gain the ear of the King. The group acquired works through a network of advisors, agents, dealers and ambassadors who had a significant influence in the formation of the group's collections.[4] These included William Petty, Sir Dudely Carleton and Inigo Jones


Following the accession of Charles I, art and collecting became an integral part of life at court.[5] The group were able to exploit the low cost of paintings to accumulate significant collections in a short time.[6] They collected paintings and other works of art including sculptures and tapestries. These were more highly prized than paintings in the 17th century. As far as paintings were concerned, they were primarily interested in acquisition of old masters, but did commission new works by outstanding contemporary artists such as Rubens and van Dyck. Between them they produced what Alex Trumble described as "the most spectacular but short-lived episode in British connoisseurship".[7] As a result of the Group's activities,on the eve of the Civil War, the area of London close to the Strand which included the London homes of most members of the group, contained some of the finest pictures in the world.[8]

Members of the Group[edit]

King Charles I[edit]

Main article: Charles I of England
Woman in a fur wrap by Titian, once part of Charles I's collection, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

King Charles I's interest in art was initially stimulated by his elder brother, Henry, and his enthusiasm was subsequently encouraged by George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. In the space of about twenty years, King Charles put together one of the largest collections of works of art in Europe.

He bought extensively from Italy where economic conditions meant that collection owners needed to raise money. His biggest coup was buying the Garganza collection as a result of which his collection rivalled that of the King of Spain.[9] He also employed court painters from whom he commissioned new works. These included van Dyck, Cornelius Johnson and Daniel Mytens.

His interest in art also resulted in him being given works by European rulers attempting to gain favour or as part of marriage negotiations.

Much of his collection was put up for sale during the protectorate. Both Spanish and French collectors were active in obtaining paintings and a number of the best works are now in European collections. However, many of the works that were still in England at the time of the restoration were returned and now form part of the Royal Collection.

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham[edit]

The Duke of Buckingham, 1625, by Peter Paul Rubens Palazzo Pitti (Florence)

Buckingham was a favourite of both James I and Charles I. He was a great collector of works of art[10] which were on show at York House, his London residence.[11] On his death, parts of his collection were bought by the Earl of Northumberland and Abbot Montague, while other parts were sold at auction in 1758.[12]

Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel[edit]

The Earl of Arundel with his sculpture gallery in the background
The Countess of Arundel with the picture gallery in the background

Thomas, Earl of Arundel (sometimes known as "the collector earl") and his wife Aletheia were dedicated art connoisseurs. Thomas had gained some works from the collection of his uncle, Baron Lumley. In 1613, Arundel and his wife paid an extended visit to Italy in the company of Inigo Jones and 34 attendants.[13] In Venice, they were joined by Sir Dudley Carleton who was the ambassador to Venice.

When the Countess inherited a third of her father's estate they were able to pursue their passion for collection. Their activities in collecting statues and paintings was emphasised in a pair of portraits painted by Daniël Mijtens by depicting them in front of their sculpture and picture galleries.

They fled abroad as a result of the Civil War. Their collection was slowly dispersed as a result of the need to sell to support themselves. What remained was sold by their son, following Aletheia's death.

William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke[edit]

William Herbert, 3rd Earl of Pembroke by Daniel Mytens

He was a courtier and important patron of art who held office under both James I and Charles I. Both Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones benefited from his patronage.[14] Herbert appears to have paid for Inigo Jones to tour Italy in 1605.[15]

Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke[edit]

He inherited both the title and art collection on the death of his brother, the 3rd Earl in 1630. According to Aubrey, he "exceedingly loved paintings" and was "the great patron of Sir Anthony van Dyck.[16]

As he supported Parliament in the Civil War, his collection remained more or less intact. It is displayed at Wilton House in Wiltshire. Inigo Jones was involved in the redesign of the house in the 17th century including the single cube room which houses part of the collection.[17]

James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, later 3rd Marquis and 1st Duke of Hamilton[edit]

In 1623, Hamilton accompanied his father to join Charles, Prince of Wales and Buckingham in Spain, where he saw for the first time the works of major European artists. Although younger than other members of the group, Hamilton became noted as an art collector.[18] Between 1636 and 1638 he acquired 600 paintings. When he died, many of his paintings went to Antwerp and some can be seen in the background of Views of the Archduke's Picture Gallery by Teniers.[8]

Advisors and agents[edit]

Balthazar Gerbier[edit]

Main article: Balthazar Gerbier
Balthasar Gerbier in Het Gulden Cabinet, p 249

Gerbier accompanied the then Prince of Wales and the Duke of Buckingham on their quixotic visit to Madrid attempting to marry a Spanish princess. Gerbier took the two of them on visits to Spanish royal and noble picture collections, which awakened the interest of Charles in what could be achieved by art.[19] He also accompanied Buckingham to Paris when Charles married Henrietta Maria by proxy.

He continued to act on behalf of Buckingham and (after Buckingham's assassination) other members of the Whitehall group. In 1640, he wrote to both the King and the Earl of Arundel announcing the death of Rubens and pointing out the opportunity this provided to acquire fine paintings.

Daniel Nys[edit]

Daniel Nys was "a strange, shadowy, Flemish dealer who knew Italy well".[20] Nys was involved in a transaction by which a collection of paintings and sculptures went via Sir Dudley Carleton to the Earl of Arundel. He also acted as agent for Charles I when he acquired the Garganza collection.

William Petty[edit]

Petty was trained in art appreciation by Aundel and worked as an agent for him for many years in Italy and Asia Minor.".[7]

Inigo Jones[edit]

Main article: Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones, by Anthony Van Dyck

Jones was an architect, artist and connoisseur who was employed in the court of Charles I. He organised many Court Masques and incorporated images from the groups collections in their backdrop.[21] He accompanied the Arundels on their visit to Italy.

Sir Dudley Carleton (later Viscount Dorchester)[edit]

Portrait of Dudley Carleton by Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, circa 1620

In 1610, Carleton was knighted and sent as ambassador to Venice. He began to look for works of art for Charles (then Duke of York) and other members of the Whitehall group.

In 1616, he was appointed ambassador to the Netherlands. He continued his interests in the art trade, exchanging statues for paintings with Rubens. He served as an intermediary for collectors such as Pembroke, Buckingham and Arundel to whom he sent paintings by Daniel Mytens and Gerard van Honthorst.

Abraham van der Doort[edit]

Portrait of Abraham van der Doort, by William Dobson.
Main article: Abraham van der Doort

Van der Doort initially worked for Prince Henry and on his death, van der Doort moved in to the service of Charles I. He was Surveyor of the King's Pictures for Charles and maintained an inventory of the King's art collection. The catalogue survives as a complete manuscript and was described by Ellis Waterhouse as "the fullest catalogues of their day in Europe."[22]


  1. ^ Millar, Oliver (1958). Rubens:the Whitehall Ceiling. Oxford University Press. p. 6. 
  2. ^ Millar, Oliver (1971). Dutch pictures from the royal collection. p. 11. 
  3. ^ Hill, Robert, 2003, Sir Dudley Carleton and his relations with Dutch artists 1616–1632 in Roding, Juliette, Dutch and Flemish Artists in Britain 1550–1800, Primavera, page 271
  4. ^ Cools, Hans; Keblusek, Marika; NoldusK, Badeloch, eds. (2006). "A Question of Attribution: Art Agents and the Shaping of the Arundel Collection". Your Humble Servant: Agents in Early Modern Europe. Royal Netherlands Institute at Rome. p. 25. 
  5. ^ Rowse, Alfred Leslie (1986). Reflections on the Puritan Revolution. Methuen. p. 67. 
  6. ^ Peck, Linda Levy (2005). Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England. Cambridge University Press. p. 183. 
  7. ^ a b Review in the Times Literary Supplement
  8. ^ a b Stourton, James; Sebag-Montefiore, Charles (2012). The British as art collectors. Scala. p. 65. 
  9. ^ Stourton, James; Sebag-Montefiore, Charles (2012). The British as art collectors. Scala. p. 62. 
  10. ^ Royal Museums Greenwich
  11. ^ Bracken and Hill Sir Isaac Wake, Venice and art collecting in early Stuart England
  12. ^ auction catalogue, page 6
  13. ^ Stourton, James; Sebag-Montefiore, Charles (2012). The British as art collectors. Scala. p. 50. 
  14. ^ National Portrait Gallery
  15. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  16. ^ Aubrey, John (1999). Aubrey's Brief Lives. David R Godine. p. [146]. 
  17. ^ Royal Institute of British Architecture
  18. ^ Tate Gallery Catalogue
  19. ^ Brown, Jonathan (1995). Kings & Connoisseurs. Yale University Press. p. 35. 
  20. ^ Stourton, James; Sebag-Montefiore, Charles (2012). The British as art collectors. Scala. p. 61. 
  21. ^ Peacock, John (1995). The Stage Designs of Íñigo Jones. Cambridge University Press. p. 45. 
  22. ^ Waterhouse, reviewing the Walpole Society publication in The Burlington Magazine 103 (June 1961), p. 287.