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Treasures of Queen Elizabeth II: a museum of 7600 paintings and the world’s most famous diamonds

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain has died at the age of 96.

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain has died at the age of 96.

A photo: REUTERS

Every time a rich and famous person dies, journalists begin to gossip about his legacy. In the case of Queen Elizabeth, everything was roughly calculated and sorted out long ago, when she was still in good health. According to various estimates, she personally owned either 430, or 468, or 500 million dollars in money and various personal property. But these are mere pennies compared to what belonged to the British crown: about 28 billion dollars. Buckingham Palace alone is estimated at 4.9 billion, Kensington – at 630 million. And there are a lot of other structures, and also – land, rivers and forests … And all this costs astronomical money.

But what does “crown” mean in this context? It is colloquially referred to as “The Firm” and also as “Monarchy PLC” (PLC is a public limited company). And, by the way, this financial colossus brought huge incomes to Great Britain. Only the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, according to Forbes, in one fell swoop poured one and a half billion dollars into the country’s economy. In general, before the pandemic, the monarchy brought Britain about $ 2.7 billion every year. Mainly due to the attraction of tourists from all over the world, who are attracted like a magnet by the Tower, Buckingham Palace and the opportunity to see the living monarch, at least from a distance, which remains one of the most important British attractions. Moreover, most of this money goes into the economy, and not into the hands of the royal family. And what the “Firma” still gets is used to repair palaces, maintain estates in proper condition, and so on.

So don’t believe people who say “the British are tired of supporting the royal family”: the monarchy is a self-sustaining and profitable institution. And, by the way, one more nuance: “The Firm”, of course, owns lands, palaces and other valuables worth 28 billion, but has no right to sell them to anyone. The queen (or, as it is now, the king) only officially governs them.

Among the treasures that the queen owned like this, without the right to sell, were many works of art. 7600 paintings – three times more than in London’s National Gallery, Britain’s most famous art museum! This is not counting 2,000 miniatures, 500,000 engravings and drawings, and 450,000 photographs. “And this is not to mention furniture, ceramics, watches, ancient weapons and armor, archives, books, and, of course, the Royal Treasury. This is one of the last great European royal collections to remain intact and shows what the tastes of monarchs have been for over 500 years.

TWO CARAVAGGIO AND THIRTEEN RUBENS

Elizabeth II was not a great connoisseur of painting (it was said about her that she “prefers the art of horses”). For all the time of her reign, the collection was almost not replenished. So, only about three dozen paintings, mostly portraits, and in two of them the artists depicted her herself. (True, Elizabeth’s mother was fond of the Impressionists and acquired several paintings by Sisley and Monet).

However, in a sense, Elizabeth did more important than buying new paintings: she opened the collection to the people. Now she is exhibited in several palaces at once. For example, Buckingham Palace has special rooms where exhibitions are regularly held on a particular topic.

Painting by Vermeier.

Painting by Vermeier.

A photo: en.wikipedia.org

One of them, held a few years ago, was dedicated to the era of Charles II – the most dramatic events in the history of the collection are associated with his name. His father, Charles I, was the owner of one of the most magnificent collections of paintings in the history of mankind. There were works by Caravaggio, Velasquez, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Holbein … He personally patronized Van Dyck and other Flemish painters. But, as you know, he laid down his head on the chopping block in 1649, after the English Revolution and the Civil War. And Oliver Cromwell did not find anything better than to sell his property – including paintings.

A little over ten years later, during the Restoration, Charles II feverishly began to buy back the collection. Alas, not everything was returned: many masterpieces have firmly settled in Spain (and are now exhibited in the Prado). But on the other hand, the Dutch, for example, presented Charles II with a gift – 28 paintings (including Veronese, Titian, Lorenzo Lotto) and 12 sculptures. 14 paintings from the “Dutch Gift” are still in the Royal Collection.

Painting from the collection of paintings of Elizabeth II

Painting from the collection of paintings of Elizabeth II

A photo: en.wikipedia.org

George III and George IV also contributed to the Royal Collection (for example, thanks to George III, 40 Canaletto Venetian landscapes appeared in it). Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert again proved to be passionate collectors. As a result, the assembly, almost ruined by Cromwell, grew over the centuries to colossal proportions. “The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew” and “Boy Peeling Fruit” by Caravaggio. The Music Lesson by Vermeer. Six paintings by Rembrandt, including “Portrait of Agatha Bas” and “Shipbuilder and his wife” (according to rumors, the late queen loved the last painting more than anyone else). The Massacre of the Innocents by Brueghel the Elder. “Saint Paul preaching in Athens” and seven more paintings by Raphael. Nine paintings by Andrea Mantegna from the series “Triumphs of Caesar”. Three canvases by Veronese, four by Titian, five by Tintoretto, 13 by Rubens, 26 by Van Dyck, 33 by Gainsborough, 50 by Canaletto. 20 drawings by Michelangelo. 600 (!) – Leonardo da Vinci (this is the largest collection of his drawings in the world). And also – Fra Angelico, Durer, Lucas Cranach Sr., Correggio, Parmigianino, Pontormo … And these are just the loudest names. Most museums in the world can only envy this.

How much does all this cost, if you count together with porcelain and weapons? According to rough estimates, about 10 billion dollars. But we must remember that no one will ever sell it to anyone. All works of art are officially administered by the charitable Royal Collection Trust (the proceeds from the sale of tickets to exhibitions go to the restoration of exhibits). By and large, paintings and antiques do not belong to Charles III now, they are the treasure of the British nation.

KOKOSHNIK TIARA AND JAPANESE NECKLACE

The same goes for diamonds. The main values ​​of the British crown are in the treasury of the Tower of London (this is an approximate analogue of our Diamond Fund), and it will not be abandoned, regardless of the wishes of Charles III. They can only flicker at coronations.

One of the precious tiaras that belonged to the queen.

One of the precious tiaras that belonged to the queen.

A photo: GLOBAL LOOK PRESS

Take, for example, the Cullinan, the largest diamond in the world. When it was discovered in the Transvaal on January 26, 1905, it weighed 3,106 carats, or 621.2 grams. The name was given in honor of the owner of diamond mines in South Africa, Thomas Cullinan. Which for two years could not sell it to anyone: there were simply no buyers willing to pay a huge price. In the end, the Prime Minister of the Transvaal purchased the diamond and presented it to King Edward VII on behalf of all the inhabitants of the colony. It was inconvenient for the king to accept such an expensive gift, but the monarch was personally convinced by Winston Churchill, who was then Under-Secretary for the Colonies. The diamond was sawn, after which it turned into nine diamonds. The largest one, called the “Great Star of Africa”, weighs 530 carats (106 grams) and adorns the royal scepter of the British Empire (from where, however, it can be taken out and worn as a pendant if desired). Its cost today is conditionally estimated at 52 million dollars. “Cullinan II” (“Second Star of Africa”) is mounted in the British imperial crown. The remaining diamonds, smaller ones, went to jewelry for women from the royal family.

Pearl necklace on Kate Middleton.

Pearl necklace on Kate Middleton.

A photo: GLOBAL LOOK PRESS

And, for example, the Kohinoor diamond cannot boast such gigantic dimensions as the Great Star of Africa: it only has 105.6 carats (21.12 grams). But there is a huge story behind it: it has been known since the 14th century, and some even claim that it is mentioned in the ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. The men who owned the Kohinur met a sad fate: either they were killed, or they died in prisons. Maybe that’s why in the British royal family only women wear it. Now it is inserted into the crown of the queen consort (that is, the spouse of the monarch, who herself does not have the right to the throne). In other words, to the crown of Camilla Parker-Bowles.

And yet, Elizabeth II had enough jewelry that belonged to her personally – she put them on not at solemn state events, such as the annual opening ceremony of Parliament, but at banquets and receptions. Elizabeth’s personal collection contains 98 brooches, 46 necklaces, 37 bracelets, 34 pairs of earrings, 15 rings, 14 watches and 5 pendants. Most of them were made in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Among the queen’s treasures are several priceless tiaras. For example, the “kokoshnik tiara of Queen Alexandra”. Alexandra, wife of the future King Edward VII, dreamed of a Russian-style tiara (her sister, whose maiden name was Dagmar, married the future Tsar Alexander III and eventually became Empress Maria Feodorovna). “Russian style” was associated with kokoshniks. And in the end, in 1888, Alexandra was presented with just such a tiara for the 25th wedding anniversary. In the end, she was inherited by Elizabeth II, who loved her very much and wore her to various solemn events (there is a photograph where she dances in it with US President Gerald Ford at a reception at the White House).

But the fact of the matter is that, by tradition, all the jewelry of queens and queen consorts is inherited by women from the royal family. In relation to jewelry that became the property of the family before Victoria’s death (that is, before 1901), this is an almost unshakable rule. Most likely, this will be the case with jewelry, which Elizabeth II became the owner of independently of her predecessors, during her reign. For example, with a necklace of diamonds and pearls, which was presented to her in Japan in the 1970s. Elizabeth put it on many times (for example, on the 70th birthday of Margaret Thatcher in 1995), gave it to Princess Diana … And in 2021, at the funeral of Prince Philip (Elizabeth’s husband), this necklace was put on by Kate Middleton.

So there is no chance that Charles III will take it and put it up for sale. Firstly, the king, and so, to put it mildly, is not starving. And secondly, the British monarchy is also about the beauty of traditions. And it is much more beautiful when all the jewels of the family remain forever in the family.

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