The Royal Collection spans more than 500 years, although few items survive from before King Henry VIII. Charles I was a passionate collector of Italian works and the collection grew substantially during his 17th century reign. Although many of the works were sold after his execution in 1649, some were recovered after the Restoration of 1660. George III was responsible for adding many of the prints and drawings, while Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were keen collectors of both contemporary and old master paintings.
Many of the images from the Royal Collection are available to view online. Please contact our sales/research team regarding sourcing further imagery from the collection. Read the official announcement about our partnership with the Royal Collection
The Nubian Giraffe by Jacques-Laurent Agasse
The giraffe in this painting was one of three giraffes given as gifts by the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt to England's George IV, Charles X of France and Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna. The English giraffe was injured after the long journey from Alexandria and could only stand supported by a pulley. The artist omitted this detail and instead depicted the animal elegantly leaning down to drink milk proffered by two Egyptian keepers standing next to Edward Cross, the proprietor of the London Zoo. In the background of the painting, the cows that supplied the giraffe’s milk on the journey from Egypt can be seen grazing. George's beloved giraffe survived for less than two years and was stuffed by celebrated ornithologist, John Gould.
Most likely acquired in the late 17th century by Charles II, the Royal Collection has around 600 drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. Although a celebrated artist in his time for his paintings, he was not yet known for his scientific and engineering exploits, which were recorded in his notebooks and in thousands of drawings. Leonardo was particularly interested in understanding the phenomena of nature, as it related to painting. Anatomy, both human and animal, botany and the movement of water are just a few of the subjects that da Vinci explored in his sketches.
The Maharaja Dalip Singh by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
Dalip Singh was the last Sikh ruler of the Punjab region of India. He was only five years old when he inherited the throne and when the British crown claimed his kingdom in 1846, Singh relinquished his title and property, converted to Christianity and surrendered the famous Koh-i-nûr diamond to Queen Victoria. In return for his loyalty and obedience to the British government, he was given a handsome pension. In 1854 he visited London and grew close the royal family, and it was on this visit that the royal artist, Franz Winterhalter painted Singh. Although he married and settled in England, in 1882 Singh publicized his discontent with his stipend in The Times, which alienated him from the Queen. He later converted back to Sikhism and settled in Paris. Singh reconciled with the Queen only a few years before his death and he was buried in England.
Pope Pius VII by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Commissioned by George IV, while he was still Prince Regent, as part of a series of 25 portraits of leaders, soldiers and diplomats associated with the downfall of Napoleon I. Pope Pius VII, born Luigi Barnaba Chiaramonti, was the most recognized man of the 19th century, apart from Napoleon. Noted for his passive resistance to the French emporer, he also led the burgeoning nationalist movement in Italy – the Risorgimento. Pope Pius restored the buildings of Rome and consolidated the treasured national collections, which enabled Rome to become the spiritual and cultural capital of Europe. The painting of Pius was recognized as a masterpiece in Lawrence’s lifetime, not only for the mastery of colour and brushwork but also the setting and symbolism. The Braccio Nuovo, built to house the finest antiquities from the Vatican collections can be seen behind Pope Pius in his elaborate throne.
The German-born Zoffany was paid handsomely to paint the royal family of George III and Queen Charlotte and their children. The scenes were very charming and Zoffany was the first artist to depict members of the royal family so informally, an example being Queen Charlotte at her toilette (bottom left). Zoffany was a major artist in the genre of conversation pieces, or 18th century paintings of identifiable persons in a small group setting. Another famous work by Zoffany is a combination of a conversation piece and another tradition from 17th century Holland, known as gallery views (or wunderkammers). The amazing thing about Zoffany's Tribuna is that all of the works and people depicted in this painting are real and identifiable. Check out some of the works Zoffany included in his painting.
Charles I in three positions by Sir Anthony van Dyck
Looking rather like a mugshot, the unusual portrait of Charles I forebodes the monarch’s grim future with storm clouds circling at his back. Although painted in happier times, fourteen years later Charles I would be declared a “tyrant, traitor and murderer and public enemy of the good people” and be executed. The painting was commissioned not as a work of art in its own right, but as a descriptive model of the King for a commissioned sculpture by Bernini. Because van Dyck knew his painting would be seen by the leading studio of Rome, the painter exceeded the original requirements and created a splendid painting featuring three different costumes complete with intricate lace collars, and displayed his talent for capturing flesh tones and the subtle colour differences of Charles’ hair.