The faces of Stuart
Two year s after the opening of the National Portrait Gallery's splendid Tudor Gallery it is now possible to walk into an adjoining Stuart Gallery.
The Stuart rooms (open daily; admission free) have been entirely redesigned and ' redecorated with a number of portraits on view for the first time alongside old favourites which have been cleaned.
The Countess of Bedford links the periods by appearing in an 'Elizabethan' dress for James l's coronation. The picture is probably by Robert Peake as is Henry Prince of Wales.
Henry's sudden death catapulted Charles towards the throne. Myten's painting of Charles I is dated 1631 but already the King looks old having suffered marital problems and seen off three parliaments. The artist kindly refrained from reproducing Charles' grey hairs.
Those who helped the King to rule without parliament for eleven years are also here. Bishop Laud of St Davids was
moved to Bath and Wells and two years later became Bishop of London. When Canterbury at last became vacant in 1633 Laud moved into Lambeth Palace. It was probably two years later that he sat for Van Dyck — or rather stood in rochet and chimere. Laud's attempt to enforce uniformity of worship led to impeachment and execution.
The most interesting and at first delightful picture must be John Michael Wright's The Vyner Family. Sir Robert, with his rich wife and children, is seen in the garden of Swakeleys House at Ickenham in 1673 — the year before he became Lord Mayor of London. Vyner, a goldsmith, had made regalia for Charles It's coronation and lent money to the government which had not been repaid. He died bankrupt and broken-hearted over the early death of his son seen in the picture.
An extra section rightly takes the Stuart story into exile to conclude with a picture of the Stuart memorial in St Peter's, Rome. Among the many engraving is a curious and much reproduced view of Charles l's execution. Almost certainly the picture should be reversed but even so the scene is an exaggeration which fails to convey the tension felt by both sides on that cold January day outside the Banqueting House.
This building, still standing in Whitehall, has been the backdrop for many momentous moments in the Stuart saga. Not only did Charles I walk through the room to die but his son was received there in 1660 and William and Mary accepted the Crown there when James ii fled.
Rubens' ceiling looked down on each gathering and now his original design has gone on view next door to the National Portrait Gallery at the National Gallery (daily in Room 22; admission free).
In the central oval James 1 is being received into heaven by a female figure who represents Justice whilst winged figures, Victory and Wisdom, crown him with a laurel wreath. Small scenes celebrate James's virtues and processions of children and animals represent the material benefits of his reign.
This free and vigorous brown sketch, approved by Charles I, can be seen translated into brilliant colour on a grand scale down the road in the Banqueting House (daily except Mondays; admission 50p).
It was during the Stuart period that London gained a skyline that was to last for nearly 300 years. British Landscape Watercolours 1600-1860 at the British Museum (daily until 5 May; admission free) gives an opportunity to see some rare views of London — as well as Castel Gandolfo.
Ronal-, the 'King's scenographer', is represented by a view of Tangier rather than his more famous Bankside. But the most remarkable series of studies here is taken from the Bankside end of Blackfriars Bridge by Thomas Girton who was working in the 1790s on a circular panorama.
All church towers from James's, Piccadilly to the City are here whilst only three bridges span the Thames. What a pity that the black smoke of Lukin's Iron Foundry is obliterating the Banqueting House.