Henrietta Maria and the Medici link to the Mantua Collection

This is my personal thesis – based on my knowledge of the Medici Family. It was Inspired by Charles I: King and Collector exhibition at the Royal Academy and the book Royal Renegades – The Children of Charles I and the English Civil Wars by Linda Porter and discussed with Dr Erin Griffley after her presentation on Henrietta Maria and Art at the Stuart Court, who thanked me and said that she had never heard of anyone else making this connection at all but now that I had mentioned it – it made complete sense! Many thanks to Dr Erin Griffley for her support which gave me the confidence to publish this train of thought.

King Charles 1st is shown exchanging gifts with his young French wife Henrietta-Maria.

In this painting by Gonzales Coques, Henrietta-Maria is shown giving her husband a symbol of peace – an olive-branch – whilst she excepts his symbol of Victory – a Laurel Branch. This might have been appropriate for the condition of their marriage after their first year together, when in July 1626 Charles ordered nearly all his wife’s French-speaking Roman Catholic servants to leave her service and leave England and demanded that she learned to speak English! With that dramatic move, he had certainly won the first round in their relationship.

Somewhat surprisingly, whilst never accepting a passive role in his court, and despite this outrage to her rights as a French Princess, his wife chose to love him fervently and with a passion that led to 9 pregnancies.

However, as we know, the ultimate Victory went to Oliver Cromwell and the Restoration olive branch was only offered to his son Charles II in May 1660 – 11 years after his father’s execution in 1649.

Henrietta-Maria had high expectations of her status and how she should be treated, as she was the youngest daughter of King Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici from Florence.

Marie de Medici was the youngest daughter of Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici and his prestigious first wife Archduchess Joanna of Austria, daughter of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, and Anna of Bohemia and Hungary. Also dispatched as a pawn in the marriage game at the age of 15, Marie arrived in France in great style with many jewels and pearls plus a huge dowry.  She must have been very disappointed when told that her new husband, whom she had never met, was too busy to greet her and be impressed by her fleet of galleys and a jewel-encrusted galleon when they arrived at Marseilles.

Marie became the second wife of Henry of Navarre, the first monarch of France from the House of Bourbon, who famously converted from Protestant Huguenot to the Catholic Religion when it was a condition of becoming the crowned King of France – announcing that “Paris was well worth a Mass“.

EDI81357 The Wedding of Henri de Bourbon, King of Navarre, to Marguerite de Valois in the presence of Catherine de Medici and Charles IX in 1572, 1862 (oil on canvas) by Lechevallier-Chevignard, Edmond (1825-1902); 151.5×202 cm; Private Collection; French, out of copyright

Marie was also Henri’s second connection by marriage to the Medici of Florence – his first wife was Catherine de Medici’s daughter Margueritte de Valois– aka “La Reine Margot” of Navarre. As French Regent, the unpopular Catherine de Medici wanted to settle the constant battles between the Huguenots and the Roman Catholics by allowing her daughter to marry the Protestant Heir to the realm of Navarre.

Unfortunately, their wedding day, designed to celebrate the reconciliation of Catholics and Huguenots, became the scene of the Protestant slaughter known as St Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

Conversion to the Roman Catholic faith made Henri IV very unpopular with those Huguenots who had risked remaining in France after the massacre and there were as many as 14 many death threats against him as a traitor to the Protestant cause. In the final event, nonetheless, Henry was eventually murdered in 1610 by a Roman Catholic zealot  François Ravaillac who had interpreted Henry’s plan to invade the Spanish Netherlands as the beginning of a war against the Pope.

With this blood-thirsty background 15-year-old, Marie de Medici could have felt a little nervous about becoming Queen Consort of France, but her Medici upbringing brought with her a stronger love of Art and Architecture than either Politics or Religion. She was a good Roman Catholic, but also, like all her family, a great spender of money on Art.

She famously commissioned Peter Paul Rubens to complete twenty-four huge paintings for the Luxembourg Palace and gardens. As noted in the plaque introducing these large gardens in the centre of Paris to the public Marie, as Queen Regent had signed off her commission for a new resistance in Paris the very next day after her husband was assassinated.

The Luxembourg Palace was built in Paris as a tribute to the Pitti Palace, Marie’s original home in Florence. Rubens completed these enormous paintings within two years of their commission, in time to add to the celebrations of the 1625 marriage of her daughter, Henrietta Maria. to Charles Stuart, the recently appointed King of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Henrietta Maria did not break with the Medici family tradition of art and pageantry at all, and even in the first year of her marriage whilst she and her husband were literally not on speaking terms she commisioned a French Pastorale. This lavish event had scenery and costumes designed by no less a theatre designer than Inigo Jones.  During the stormy first eighteen months of their marriage, Henrietta Maria went on to present three masques at her Court and invite Orazio Gentileschi, who was accompanied by his daughter Artemesia for the first two years of his commission, to come from Italy to paint her chambers in Somerset House.

But Henrietta-Maria was a woman with a mission – Dr Erin Griffley in her excellent presentation about The Queen’s Influence – Henrietta Maria and Art at the Stuart Court reminded us that her marriage to a Protestant King had only been sanctioned by her Godfather Barberini Pope Urban VIII on the understanding that she would convert her husband, as Supreme Head of the Church of England, back to the Church of Rome.

The intention being for all of the three countries that he ruled to return to Catholicism in line with their King – not an easy task for a 15-year-old girl with no English and no children yet to pit against a notoriously stubborn husband!

A pretty woman and not without intelligence, she was one of the few people who sympathised with her husband after his good friend George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham was attacked and killed in 1928. This led to reconciliation and ultimately they became a truly loving coupling, although the Religious Question in relation to the King and his children could not help but generate passionate arguments.

Henrietta-Maria liked to pose for portraits of herself – always with her mouth closed to cover her teeth, which were described by one unkind courtier as being like “defence works”. In the portrait below with her small servant, she is shown with an orange tree in the background – perhaps a whisper of recognition towards her Medicean Heritage as shown in the family crest above – and many works of art, including the Primavera by Botticelli.

Whilst most of the paintings that the Queen bought were devotional, and many were kept close in her chambers to help her at prayer, as her relationship improved with her husband and her family grew, she also commissioned many portraits of her children to send to her relatives across Europe.

These were hardly post-cards from the UK – some of these were ‘larger than life-size’ paintings! The picture below painted in 1637 by Anthony Van Dyke shows from left to right, Mary, Princess Royal, mother of King William III Prince of Orange, James 11, King from 1685-88 and father of William II’s wife Queen Mary II, Charles II, King from 1660- 1685, Elizabeth, who died aged 15 and Anne, who only survived for 3 years. And yes, Prince James, is indeed, as was the custom for little boys under 5 years of the time, still wearing a dress! Children to follow were Katherine, Henry and Henrietta-Anne – better known by her eldest brother’s nickname for her as Minette – who married her cousin  Phillipe, Duke of Orleans, the son of the French King Louis XIII, who was the brother of Queen Henrietta Maria. Confused? Surely not! It certainly indicates how influential and intertwined the family Medici had become within the European Royalty.

In 1623, when Charles 1 had first been in search of a suitable bride, he and his best friend George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham had undertaken a Grand Tour of Europe.

His first choice had been Infanta Maria Anna of Spain but these negotiations failed.

One of the places the pair visited during their tour was the Palazzo of the Duke of Mantua  Ferdinando I Gonzaga and his wife, another Catherine de’ Medici, who was the youngest daughter of Ferdinando I de Medici, 3rd Grand Duke of Tuscany. Here Charles was hugely impressed by the magnificent artwork collection of the family, much of which had been commissioned by Ferdinand’s Medici mother Eleonora de’ Medici, the elder sister of Marie de’ Medici and decided that he wished to build such a collection for himself!

Perhaps this second Catherine de’ Medici, even pointed out the availability of another potential Medici linked bride, with Medici money behind her, that he might be interested in?

Certainly, it was a year later that negotiations began for the hand of her cousin, Henrietta Maria Bourbon, daughter of Maria de’ Medici and they married in 1625.

When Duke Ferdinand Gonzaga died in 1626, his brother Vincenzo II, who had no legitimate heirs, inherited the Ducal title and was forced to seek a purchaser of almost the entire Gonzaga collection of Artworks to pay off the huge family debts.  A problem greatly exacerbated by the prolific purchase of quantities of Artworks by his mother, brother and sister in law!

But, if they have to go, who better to offer these artworks to than their wealthy niece? This was Vincenzo’s second cousin Henrietta Maria, and by selling them to the King of England they were at least able keep all these treasures within the family?

Thes treasures included Peter Paul Rubens celebratory triptych that included The Gonzaga Family Adoring the Holy Trinity, painted 1604-1605, shown above, which is now back in the Museo del Palazzo Ducale.  This features Ferdinard Gonzago’s  father, Vincenzo I and his  mother Eleonora de’ Medici,

Also offered for sale were Mantegna’s 9 huge egg tempera panels showing the Triumphal Entrance of Julius Caesar, several Titians, including his portrait of Isabella d’Este as a young girl and my personal favourite – the Bronzino portrait of the “Unknown Lady in Green” -featured in  a previous blog

I think that possibly it was thus these famous works came to London for the enjoyment of the British Royal Family, and although they formed part of the 2,000 artworks that were sadly soon all sold off in the Commonwealth Sale in 1650, at least 140 of them have this year 2018 been reunited for this magnificent exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Share