Charles I: King and Collector: Royal Academy of Arts

The early 1600’s in Britain are best known for the political upheaval surrounding the English Civil War rather than an illustrious arts scene, however the Royal Academy of Arts’ current ‘Charles I: King and Collector’ exhibition certainly questions that. Twelve vast gallery spaces across Burlington House are dedicated to showcasing the kings’ collection, and the walls of each gallery are painted a vivid shade of regal blue or red and act as the perfect backdrop for works by Anthony Van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, Pieter Bruegel, Andrea Mantegna and Hans Holbein amongst others. These works have been sourced from the Royal Collection, the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, the Frick Collection in New York and various private stores, and reunited for the first time in over four centuries, having been sold off following Charles I execution in 1649. The show flows easily, manages to feel relaxed despite its grandeur, and the works bounce off each other; evident in the opening gallery where a portrait by Van Dyck of Charles I from three different angles is positioned behind a marble sculpture of the kings torso, marrying the two together. The sheer scale of several paintings, four enormous tapestries from the Mortlake workshop and the nine canvases depicting the ‘Triumph of Caesar’ by Mantegna shown side by side in one space is truly staggering. Status affirming images are common, but this exhibition does more than simply portray Charles I as king, and there are numerous family portraits and intimate scenes between himself and his wife Henrietta Maria on display. The final gallery focusses on Van Dyck and Rubens, two artists who owe their careers to Charles I who commissioned several works, including the ceilings of Banqueting House by Rubens which are likely to have been the final images the king saw before being beheaded outside it.

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Raglan Castle: Monmouthshire, Wales

Raglan Castle is a majestic carcass of a building set within the rolling Monmouthshire landscape. The earliest parts of this late medieval ruin were erected in the 1430’s in pale sandstone, with later additions in Old Red sandstone as well as Bath Stone for detailed features. Today it is not only a visitor attraction, but also recognised as a Grade I listed building and Scheduled Monument. Through its exposed positioning and unique shape, it is palpable that the castle was designed to be approached and entered from every angle, as it actively encourages you to walk around it and view its varied facdes. This element has thankfully not been lost as there is no set visitor route and nothing precious about the castle’s presentation – even dogs are welcome to explore the ruin and go up the stone spiral staircases on a lead. Over the centuries Raglan passed from the Herbert family to the Somerset family via marriage, and underwent siege during the English Civil War in the 1640’s as the owners were Royalists. The castles’ thick stone exterior made for strong fortifications and the building only surrendered when the base of the Great Tower was demolished by hand with pickaxes, leaving what was above it to collapse. The colossal dimensions of these walls remains impressive today, and is most evident in the windows and stairwells where the sheer scale of the stone masonry is explicitly exposed. Raglan was neglected by the Somerset family after the War as they decided to put money into repairing other properties and left the castle to deteriorate. In 1938 it was placed in the guardianship of the Commissioners of HM Works and underwent two decades of repair following the Second World War. Today the castle and tower are open once again offering an insight into the socio-political history of the area, as well as stunning views of the Welsh panorama it sits in.

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One of many views of the castle
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Sunshine coming through the ruins
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The Great Tower and moat
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View from the Great Tower
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Impressive stonework window

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