Storytelling at the Ashmolean

This is the painting I mentioned last week, that has found a happy new home at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

AshDobson

It was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, whereby owners of significant works of art can surrender them to the UK government in exchange for their inheritance tax being written off. The work is then allocated to a public gallery or museum and beomes part of the national collection.  The Ashmolean put forward a bid to become the new hosts of the above portrait, with a very strong claim to be the best place for it. The triple portrait, made by William Dobson in the mid-1640s, was painted just a few streets away from where the Ashmolean stands today, in apartments Dobson was renting during the time King Charles and his entourage were resident in the city during the Civil War.

The sitter on the left is Prince Rupert, the King’s nephew and famed military commander. On the right is Colonel John Russell, an officer under Rupert. The man in the middle has been traditionally identified as a Colonel Murray, but the Ashmolean’s research has shown he is more likely to be Colonel William Legge, another Royalist officer and, from 1645, governor of Oxford.

The painting is significant because it relates to true events, after Rupert had fallen out of favour with the king for surrendering the city of Bristol to the Parliamentarians. The scene is full of symbolism, Dobson narrating in his own way Rupert’s enduring loyalty to the King despite their falling out.  You can read an in-depth study of it here.

The Ashmolean unveiled the portrait this week, and made it a centrepiece of their Live Friday event, celebrating the 400th birthday of founder Elias Ashmole. I was lucky enough to go, and thought it was a great success, with renactors parading through the streets, and actors at the museum playing figures such as King Charles, Prince Rupert and even William Dobson himself! What I found most important, though, from a 17th century art-lover’s perspective, was how many people crowded around the painting, watched the performances and seemed genuinely interested to know about the artist and the events in the 17th century. Hopefully Friday will have inspired people who may not ordinarily set foot in a museum or gallery to do so more often!

It also shows what a good idea the Acceptance in Lieu scheme is, bringing art out of the private realm where only a handful of people will see it, and into the public sphere where the whole world can enjoy it. Who can argue with that!

 

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1 Comment

  1. Oh, wow! That’s wonderful! Always liked this image of Rupert, too.

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