The Prince of Wales is known for his interest and involvement, through the Prince’s Trust, in helping young people make a good start in life, not just in gaining skills but by building confidence. It’s less well known that he has a similar commitment to the arts.
Prince & Patron, an exhibition included in this summer’s opening of the state rooms at Buckingham Palace to mark the Prince’s 70th birthday, includes some of his favourite pieces in the Royal Collection alongside works created by young artists supported by three of his charities. The London-based Royal Drawing School and Prince’s School of Traditional Arts teach observational drawing both at postgraduate level and to schoolchildren, and traditional arts such as ceramic tiles, stained glass, calligraphy and icons. “Students can experience the beauty of the order of nature – a spiritual, sacred beauty, connecting the whole of creation,” says the traditional arts’s website. The third charity, Turquoise Mountain, works to restore historic buildings and revive traditional crafts in Afghanistan, Myanmar and the Middle East.
Prince & Patron is an eclectic mix of 100 paintings and other items packed into one room with little narrative, not even display labels, just a small printed guide. There are plenty of family portraits, from Victoria and Albert to Princes William and Harry, and a delightful selection of paintings and sketches of Battle of Britain and D-Day veterans, which Charles commissioned from young artists.
Given the Prince’s well-known interest in spirituality there are surprisingly few religious pieces. Half of these are Buddhist or Hindu deities painted by Renuka Gurung, a master of the traditional Paubha art of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, who gained her PhD at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. The colourful images of Saraswati, goddess of arts, music and eloquence, Green Tara, goddess of compassion, White Tara, goddess of long life and good health, and Shakyamuni Buddha with his two disciples sit surprisingly well on the same wall as two historical Christian works, Jacopo Bassano’s The Adoration of the Shepherds and Georges de la Tour’s St Jerome, acquired for the Royal Collection by Charles I and II respectively.
Bassano’s Adoration (c 1546) shows three shepherds visiting the Christ child in a ruined temple, symbolising the growth of Christianity out of Judaism. In St Jerome (c 1620) the translator of the Vulgate from Hebrew into Latin is shown as an old man, spiritual and authoritative in his red cardinal’s robe, peering at a piece of text.
The two other religious exhibits are very different, but equally powerful. One is a facsimile of the beautifully illuminated Sobieski Book of Hours (c 1420), which came into the Royal Collection on the death of Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart, younger son of the Jacobite Old Pretender, in 1807. The other is a gorgeous modern triptych of Our Lady of Tenderness with Archangels Michael and Gabriel (2014). The artist, Irina Bradley, teaches icon painting in the Russo-Byzantine style, and was awarded her PhD by the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. Prince Charles’s exhibition demonstrates that in artistic expressions of spirituality, the ancient and the modern are equally important.
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