Royal Collectors

From the renaissance to the beginning of the 19th century, popes, kings, and emperors collected great art – not just because they liked it but also because it added greatly to their prestige. Today, most of that art is in great museums: the Vatican, the Prado, the Louvre, the Hermitage, and a number of others have reason to be grateful to these long-dead patrons. These lectures will remind us that we, too, owe them a great debt.

March 12:

Renaissance Popes

Collecting Popes: From Julius II to Pius IV, from the High Renaissance to the best of Mannerism, the Popes made Rome the greatest artistic center in Europe. Whether it was Michelangelo at the Sistine Chapel or Ligorio and Zuccari in the Casina of Pius IV, art was at the center of the Papacy.


  March 26:

King Charles I

As 17th century kings went, Charles I was a poor man, but he loved art and had both knowledge of quality and a passion for masterpieces. It took a lot of bargaining but, by the time the Civil War began, he had put together the best collection of his time. Today, most of it can be seen at the Louvre and at the Prado.


  April 2:

Louis XIV and Versailles

The palace itself was a major artistic achievement, but Louis XIV also collected avidly. Poussin, Le Brun and the best of Italian paintings adorned the galleries and salons of Versailles. The King collected precious objects and rare books as well. Today they are among the highlights of the Louvre and the French National library.


April 16:

Catherine the Great

Although the Empress liked books more than paintings, she was determined to make Russia a center of great art. All it took was determination and money, as she bought up one great collection after the other. Poussin, Raphael, Rembrandt: there was no end to her acquisitions.



April 23:

Napoleon as Collector

Napoleon wanted to make France the first artistic power in Europe. It was not difficult: he put the old Royal Collection into the Louvre and made it a museum to which he added key contemporary works by David, Ingres, Gérard, Girodet and other contemporary masters. At the same time, he supported the decorative arts, and commissioned a dazzling series of interiors.