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A major investigation of the very important Italian Old Master paintings acquired by James Hamilton (1606-49), 3rd Marquis and later 1st Duke of Hamilton.

A major investigation of the very important Italian Old Master paintings acquired by James Hamilton (1606-49), 3rd Marquis and later 1st Duke of Hamilton, from the collection of the Venetian merchant Bartolomeo della Nave, has recently been published in the 80th volume of the Walpole Society.

In 200 pages, with twelve appendices and hundreds of endnotes, Jeremy Wood, Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Nottingham, examines the correspondence and inventories in the Hamilton archive which relate to the purchase of the largest of three collections acquired for the 1st Duke by his brother-in-law, Basil, Viscount Feilding, later 2nd Earl of Denbigh, whilst he was British ambassador to Venice in the 1630s. Professor Wood also documents and discusses the display of some of the della Nave paintings in the Duke’s house in London, the sale of over 400 of his best works to the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, the son of the Emperor Ferdinand II, who had recently become the governor of the Southern Netherlands, and their incorporation in the collections of the Holy Roman Emperors in Vienna and elsewhere. As readers will know, most of the 1st Duke’s outstanding paintings by Antonello da Messina, Giorgione, Titian, Palma Vecchio, Paolo Veronese, Jacopo Tintoretto and other leading Venetian and North Italian artists now form the core of the stupendous collection of Italian Renaissance paintings in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Many of the 230-plus paintings in the della Nave collection are identified and a high percentage of these are illustrated in colour in the individual inventory listings in Appendix 8 (pages 80-167). Whenever this has not been possible, old etchings and engravings and an old black and white photograph have been used, either to represent the works or to indicate their likely appearance.

All this is extremely revealing and the result is a very useful, single-stop survey of a large part of the 1st Duke’s huge collection of Old Master paintings, which was at least as good as, if not better, than King Charles I’s much more famous and celebrated collection. Moreover, Professor Wood has also taken the opportunity, in his main essay, to focus upon the Duke’s parallel patronage of Sir Anthony Van Dyck and his ownership of two exceptional works by Sir Peter Paul Rubens.

As well as showing exactly what the 1st Duke owned, Professor Wood has also significantly clarified the sale of the Duke’s paintings and antiquities to the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm after his execution by the Parliamentarians in March 1649 by publishing accurate transcripts and critical assessments of the passport issued at The Hague in April 1649 to transport 80 pictures, 29 antique marbles and various antiquities to the Archducal court at Brussels (which is in the National Archive at The Hague); extracts from the account books and related documents which record the presence of the 1st Duke’s brother, William, the 2nd Duke, in the Northern and Southern Netherlands between May 1649 and May 1650; and lists of tapestries, bed hangings, feather mattresses and other valuable textile items which were sent from Hamilton Palace and Kinneil House to the Netherlands in July and December 1649 (Appendices 9-12).

Unfortunately, the volume containing Professor Wood’s essay and appendices is only issued to subscribers of the Walpole Society and cannot be purchased. However, it will probably be available in large libraries, either on the shelves or through Inter Library Loan. The exact reference is: Jeremy Wood, ‘Buying and Selling Art in Venice, London and Antwerp: The Collection of Bartolomeo Della Nave and the Dealings of James, Third Marquis of Hamilton, Anthony van Dyck, and Jan and Jacob van Veerle, c.1637-50’, Walpole Society, Volume 80, 2018, pp. 1-200.

9th November, 2018

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