Collections: Royal Patrimony

Chaucer visited Italy in the 14th century, and Shakespeare patterned numerous plays on Italian scenarios, but it took the Renaissance's archetypical gentleman, Castiglione, author of The Book of the Courtier, to import the pictorial arts to Britain. A diplomat to Henry VII, he brought as a gift a portrait of St. George by Raphael.

From such a splendid beginning, the British royal collection came to fill six castles and grow into the most valuable private collection in the world. From its 50 Canalettos to its 200 Da Vinci draw ings, the crown's choice is still an unnationalized treasure. The bulk, of...

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