Castiglione: Lost Genius and Gifted: From the Royal Academy to The Queen – The Queen’s Gallery

I popped in to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace on Saturday, just before attending a play at the nearby St James Theatre. There are currently two exhibitions at the Gallery: Castiglione: Lost Genius and Gifted: From the Royal Academy to The Queen.

Castiglione exhibition

Of the two, I definitely preferred the Castiglione exhibition. The artist (1609-64) was known as one of the greatest of the Baroque period, and became well-known for his drawings and prints. These are beautiful, unusual and vibrant, revealing a unique artistic sensibility. He also invented the technique of monotype, which led to the creation of dramatic works of art. He fell into near-obscurity in subsequent centuries, and this exhibition aims to go some way towards restoring his fame.

Castiglione exhibition

Castiglione exhibition

Gifted showcases the works presented to the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee by the Royal Academy.  There are over 100 drawings and paintings in the collection, and I liked some of them, but wasn’t particularly impressed by others. Modern art isn’t really my thing.

Gifted exhibition

The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein – The Queen’s Gallery

I really like the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. It has rotating exhibitions which change every few months or so, and when you buy a ticket you can get it converted into a 1-year pass enabling you to go back as many times as you want over the course of the year. I had the day off on Wednesday and visited the Gallery for the third time this year, in order to see the exhibition The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein.

I studied the Reformation in Europe as part of my History A Level and many of the pictures in this exhibition were of figures I am familiar with. One painting, which appeared in the first room, was of Desiderius Erasmus, a hugely important intellectual figure and inspiration to Martin Luther who kickstarted the Reformation. In our class he was known as ‘Daddy Rasmus’.

2012 1205 Durertoholbein 01

‘Daddy Rasmus’

This painting, and many others at the beginning of the exhibition, was by Albrecht Dürer, a German painter and printmaker who is commonly regarded as one of the greatest artists of the period. I recognised several of his engravings, including the Knight, Death and the Devil, from A Level textbooks. Much of his work has a strong Gothic feel, and he utilised classical imagery in his work. He drew and painted many of the prominent figures in the Northern Renaissance.

2012 1205 Durertoholbein 02

Hans Holbein the Younger is known for his work at the Tudor court; he came to England from Germany where he first developed as an artist. Sketches, drawings and paintings by him show his ability to capture in detail the expressions and personalities of the figures of the period.

2012 1205 Durertoholbein 03

The work of other artists was also represented in the exhibition: tapestries, altarpieces and paintings all capture the important themes of the period, reflecting the turbulent age in which they were created. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were a time of dramatic change in Europe, with intellectual exploration, religious questioning and a shifting of the balance of power. The works of art portrayed here are interesting in their own right, but are also emblematic of the wider issues of their age.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

I paid my first visit to Buckingham Palace in 2011, but for some reason never published my thoughts until now. The Palace is probably one of London’s most famous visitor attractions and is hugely popular with tourists. The State Rooms are open for visitors during the summer months only, and any ticket you buy is valid for a year provided you get it stamped before leaving. It is recommended that you buy your ticket online before you go as it does get very busy.

The entrance to the Palace is on Buckingham Palace Road, just past the entrance to the Queen’s Gallery if you are coming up from Victoria Station. After queuing to buy/collect your tickets, you pass through security, but this isn’t too much of a hassle as every single member of staff is really friendly.

Originally known as Buckingham House, the building became a palace in the early nineteenth century when King George IV decided to modify and improve it. The work was concluded by his brother William IV, but it wasn’t until Victoria came to the throne in 1837 that Buckingham Palace became the official residence of the monarchy.

During Victoria’s reign, further building work was carried out: the new East Wing, now the “front” of the Palace, was built to close off the quadrangle, and the façade was given an overhaul in 1913. Today, Buckingham Palace has over 800 rooms, and 240 bedrooms for the Royal Family and their live-in staff. It is still the home of the Queen, but is owned by the state and paid for by the Government, helped by the income from visitors each summer since 1993, when it was first opened to help pay for the rebuilding of the fire-damaged Windsor Castle. As well as acting as a Royal residence, the Palace hosts numerous state and diplomatic functions, and the “Changing of the Guard” takes place each day just outside.

Once inside the Palace, it’s best to use the audio guide to help you get around, as it is packed with interesting information about what you are seeing. The State Rooms are very impressive, with gorgeous gilt decorations and incredible artwork. The Picture Gallery in particular has paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rubens. I liked seeing the Throne Room, familiar from official pictures of the Royal Family, and the back of the famous balcony.

The Royal Wedding was the theme when I visited, and there were some interesting exhibits about William and Kate’s nuptials. The highlight for me was Kate’s wedding dress, designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Close-up, it was possible to appreciate the detail and thought that had gone into creating the dress.

After exiting the house, you walk through the garden with impressive views of the back of the Palace. You leave the grounds via the gift shop, which has plenty of tasteful and not-so-tasteful Royal-themed memorabilia.

It’s expensive, but a visit to Buckingham Palace is worthwhile, and if you live in London it’s good to make the effort at least once. Even better, get your ticket stamped and go back the following year for free.


Address: London, SW1A 1AA


Opening Hours: Approx. 9.30am-7.30pm during summer opening

Prices: £20.50 Adult,, £18.80 Concession, £11.80 Child; under 5s free; combined “Royal Day Out” ticket available

Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration – Buckingham Palace

As the summer opening of Buckingham Palace is drawing to an end, I decided to pay a visit and make the most of my ticket from last year (I visited in 2011 as I wanted to see Kate’s wedding dress, and your ticket is valid for a year after purchase). To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, there is an exhibition of diamonds at the Palace and I wanted to see this. After all, diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Diamonds are a girl's best friend

There was some beautiful jewellery on display, some of it from the time of Queen Victoria, and I liked seeing paintings and photographs of kings and queens wearing the items displayed. Sword hilts, crowns and tiaras were among the pieces shown, and sparkled beautifully in the low-lit room.  I liked the Coronation Earrings and Necklace from 1858, so called because Queen Elizabeth II wore them on her coronation day. The exhibition also displayed seven of the nine major stones cut from the Cullinan Diamond (the other two are part of the Crown Jewels). This famous diamond – the largest ever found – was discovered in South Africa in 1905 and named after the chairman of the mining company which owned the mine in which it was found. It was formally presented to King Edward VII in 1907. Too big to be much use, it was cut up into a number of stones. I also loved the diamond crown made for Queen Victoria in 1870: it was so small and delicate.

Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown

I walked through the grounds afterwards; it was a beautiful autumn day, sunny but with a refreshing nip in the air. It was so early that the streets weren’t particularly busy. It was almost worth setting my alarm for seven thirty.

2012 0915 Buckinghampalace