Tudor: The Origins of Collecting

It is always assumed that collecting started with the Stuarts – Lord Arundel,

Charles I and Buckingham. However, evidence is growing that there was some limited collecting by the Tudors. Of course, this depends on the definition of collecting. It is generally assumed that it consists of items gathered because of a particular theme or interest but it was often not that simple. For example, a collection could result from the gradual acquisition through inheritance and gifts without any conscious effort to collect.

In the sixteenth century Italians and then other countries started to collect cabinets of curiosities. These were the forerunners of museums and contained all manner of strange and exotic items such as stuffed birds, minerals, corals and even a stuffed crocodile on the ceiling. Some late Tudor collectors had cabinets of curiosities.

There weremany curiosities produced from exotic materials, for example a nef or galleon. The Burghley Nef (ship), is a French salt cellar made in approximately 1527-1528 (although some scholars date it to Pierre le Flamand, 1482). It was purchased by the Art Fund in 1959 and is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum. It was used for keeping salt, a highly valued commodity. Other nefs were used to keep utensils, such as a spoon and knife (the fork was regarded as an Italian affectation and not commonly used in England until the 18th century).

There is another nef at the British Museum in the form of an automated clock and produced around 1585 by Hans Schlottheim in Augsburg, Southern Germany. The miniature sailors on the galleon announced the hours by banging hammers and the grand finale was when it fired all its canons.

Seychelles nut turned into a scent fountain, German, gold.

Shell, Gilbert Collection, 1590s, German (German items tend to have survived better).

Two more nefs (French for ship or galleon) set on wheels and used originally for salt but they became too elaborate so they were decorative or used for wine. The Duke of Burgundy had such a huge nef that it hid him from view and had to be moved. It is typical 16thC but were also used into the 17thC. The vast majority of gold plate was never used, it was just displayed on shelves.

Royal Gold Cup, 1380, British Museum, French goldsmith’s work and it came into the Tudor collection when the extension with the Tudor rose was added. Another collar was added in the 17thC saying it was a present from James I to the Spanish ambassador and later sold back to Britain. James I inherited items that dated back to Henry VIII and earlier, for example, a 1530 gold bowl now in Munich.

Holbein designed a clock salt. A salt cellar with a built in clock with two putti on top. Henry VIII had several examples (classical cameos, Renaissance design) in Goldsmith’s Company in London.

Elizabeth I 1569-70, Vintner’s Company with figures of virtues – a salt cellar.

Goldsmith’s work is a good way of displaying magnificence as is tapestry. Charles inherited many tapestries going back to the reign of Edward IV and the 1480s. Not all were high cost, in the 1649 inventory some were valued as only a few shillings, they must have been very worn.

Henry VIII had over 2,000 tapestries – the largest collection ever assembled. The Story of Abraham tapestries are at Hampton Court and were produced in Brussels, the unrivalled centre mentioned in the 1649 inventory, 10 tapestries for £10,000 as they had a lot of gold and silver in them so they were unusually expensive. They were used in Westminster in a 17thC coronation. Oliver Cromwell valued and retained them.

A Typical Collection

Thomas Platter (a medical student from Switzerland) visited England in
1599. He described the collection of Sir Walter Cope (The Journals of Two
Travellers in Elizabethan and Early Stuart England (London, 1995), pp.33 -35):

This same Mr. Cope inhabits a fine house in the Snecgas [we have no idea
where this is, it may be a misheard English word]; he led us into an
apartment, stuffed with queer foreign objects in every corner, and amongst other
things I saw there, the following seemed of interest.

1 An African charm made of teeth.
2 Many weapons, arrows and other things made of fishbone.
3 Beautiful Indian plumes, ornaments and clothes from China.
4 A handsome cap made from goosefoots from China.
5 A curious Javanese costume.
6 A felt cloak from Arabia.

12 The horn and tail of a rhinoceros, is a large animal like an elephant.
16 A round horn which had grown on an Englishwoman’s forehead.
17 An embalmed child (Mumia).
19 The bauble and bells of Henry VIII’s fool.

27 Flying rhinoceros.
29 Flies which glow at night in Virginia instead of lights, since there is often
no day
there for over a month.
33 Porcelain from China.
35 Many holy relics from a Spanish ship which he helped to capture.
36 A Madonna made of Indian feathers.
43 Heathen idols.
50 A long narrow Indian canoe, with the oars and sliding planks, hung from the
ceiling of this room.

This gentleman also spends a good deal on artistic paintings; some of them
had cost not less than fifty or eighty crowns.

Such collections were common across Europe and were held by even the Holy
Roman Emperor.

Richard Haydock, A Tracte Containing the Artes of curious Paintinge,
Carvinge, Building… (Oxford, 1599), preface:

…some of our Nobility, and diverse private Gentlemen, have very well acquited themselves; as may appear, by their Galleries carefully furnished, with excellent monuments of sundry famous Masters, both Italian and Germane.

But why?

  • It is possible that with more extensive travel adventurers would bring
    back mementoes of their visits, particularly those that demonstrated the
    strangeness of the places they had visited.
  • Antiquarianism was starting, that is the methodical collection and
    clasification of ancient objects. There was an interest in historic periods
    as demonstared by Shakespeare’s many historic plays. Pliny the Elder was
    widely read and the interest may have merged with an interest in the
  • The beginnings of science although at the time it was bound up with
    alchemy and involved individuals such as John Dee and Francis Drake. In the
    early 17thC Galileo prophetically discredited cabinets of curiosities and
    praised great collections of painting and sculpture. Most collectors with
    their kunst- and wunderkammer would have been insulted but Galileo
    recognised theirs collections as pseudo-science and mere bric-a-brac.
    Galileo was influenced by the writer Giovanni Pontano who made similar
    observations in 1600. The rise in the esteem of paintings (as opposed to
    classical sculpture which was assured by 1600) only took place after 1600
    propelled by frenetic large scale collectors in the courts of Europe. In
    England cabinets of curiosities and paintings were generally lumped together
    until about 1700.
  • A collection of hard to find curiosities demonstrated magnificence and
  • In Italy collections of paintings started in the 16th century.

A recent exhibition at the British Museum, A Clash of Cultures, was based on
watercolours by John White, who accompanied Rayleigh to Virginia in 1585.

Letter from Nicholas Houel to William Cecil, Lord Burghley dated 1571 (Public
Record Office State Papers (Domestic) 12/20 f.89, translated from the French):

Hearing of the Queen’s perfections, her favour for science, and her love for painting and portraiture, and that she wishes to make a large collection of portraits, and knowing that your merit has made you first in her Council, T beg
that you inform her that for 25 years I have been collecting the portraits of the most excellent workmen in the world, Italian, French, and German. I have enough to make 20 volumes, which would enrich her library, and give her honour and pleasure; four volumes on the Holy Scriptures; others of Greek and Roman history, histories, drolleries, nobles with their towns, architecture, Albrecht
Durer’s works etc. Also I have a cabinet of pictures of the best masters; also busts, medals, vases, etc. all at reasonable prices; if the Queen would send over a gentleman or her ambassador here to view them, I would receive him with the utmost courtesy.

Does this indicate that Elizabeth was interested in painting or is it simply
a dealer praising Elizabeth and trying to find a customer. There are two pieces
of evidence that indicate she may have been interested.

  • An altarpiece by Quentin Massys the Elder (grandfather of Quentin Massys
    who painted the sieve portrait), 1511. In 1577 the Antwerp Guild wanted to
    sell it and Elizabeth put in a bid of 8,000 rose nobles. We do not know why
    she wanted a Catholic altarpiece, maybe she was just trying to stop Philip
    buying it or was pushing the price up to help the people of Antwerp.
  • We also know that the burghers of Ghent considered giving the Ghent
    altarpiece to Elizabeth in 1579 in gratitude for England’s support of the
    Netherlands. Elizabeth never received either item. Although they were
    religious Elizabeth may have been able to keep them in a secular gallery as
    interesting pieces. They could never have been used in a church and we are
    probably lucky they never arrived in England as they may have been

Baron Waldstein describing his visit to Hampton Court Palace in 1600 (G.
Groos (ed.), The Diary of Baron Waldstein, a Traveller in Elizabethan England
(London, 1981), p.149):

..in one room, there is a most beautiful picture of the night of Christ’s
Passion and the Last Supper, painted with such skill that if the windows are
closed and the red curtains of the room drawn, the pictures give the impression
of being real, and succeeds most wonderfully in representing the effects of
night time.

This is an example of a religious painting in a secular context. Obviously
the tour guide showing around Waldstein had developed the trick of lowering the
light to enhance the impact of the painting.

There is some evidence that collecting was taking place in Henry VIII reign.

John Leland was a humanist at the court of Henry VIII. Some of his Latin
poems praise Holbein and other painters.

(These are transcribed and translated in S. Foister, ‘Humanism and Art in the
Early Tudor Period: John Leland’s Poetic Praise of Painting’, in J. Woolfson,

Tudor Humanism (2002), pp. 129-l50):

On the images of the incomparable Prince Edward:
As often as I direct my eyes to look at your delightful face and appearance, so
I seem to see the form of
your magnanimous father shining forth in your face.
The immortal Holbein painted this pleasing picture with rare dexterity of hand.
On the head of St. John the Baptist painted by Antonio de Solario:
That fortunate Antonio, whose fame was known among the painters
of the Venetian lagoon, painted the head of the divine John,

cut off at his wound-inflicting death,
with such skilfulness that if the often praised Apelles were living now
he would have broken his brushes with his angry hand.

This shows an appreciation of the aesthetics of painting
rather than just a typical comment on the subject matter.

If we look at the Lumley inventory below we see ‘Of
Raphael de urbino, the great paynter’

Considering all the negatives associations of painters as
mere craftsmen this indicates there was an appreciation of certain artists.


Additions by same hand as MS. are printed within square brackets.
Additions in a later hand are printed in italics.
A Certyficate from Mr. John Lampton Stewarde of Howseholde to John
Lord Lumley, of all his Lo: monumentes of Marbles, Pictures and tables in
Paynture, with other his Lordshippes howseholde Stuffe and Regester of
Bookes. Anno 1590.

A note of Pyctures caryinge
the fowrrne of the whole Statuary.

These sorted together for the meniorye of yt Lo: house.

The statuary of Adam and Eve.
The Statuaryes of xvi Auncestors of yor Lo: lyneally descending from
the Conquest unto yor self.
The Statuary of yor eldest sonne Charles.
The Statuary of bothe yor Lo: wives.
The Statuary of old tyme.
The Statuary of Kinge Richard the seconde, delvvering the wryte of Parliament to
Raiphe the first Barron of Lumley, called by him the eight yeare of his Reigne.
The Statuary of King Henry the eight and his father Kinge Henry the seaventh
joyned together, doone in white and biacke by Haunce Holbyn.
The Statuary of Kinge Henry the eight alone doone in oyle coloures.
The Statuary of his sonne King Edward the sixt drawne by
The Statuary of the Lord Darnely, after King of Scots
The Statuary of Quene Anne Bulleyne.
The Statuary of the Duches of Myllavne, afterwards Duhes of Lorrevn daugnter to
[Christierne] king of Denmarke doone by Haunce Holbvn
The Statuary of the Duches of Parma, Regent in Flaunders, Base doughter to the
Emperor Charles the fiveth,
The Statuary of King Phillip of Spavne.
The Statuary of Henry of Burbon King of Navarre and of Fraunce.
The Statuary of Willm Nassau Prince of Orange. murthered by Baithazar Geraertez.
a Burgunyan gent.
The Statuary of the Princes his last wife, daughter to Colligny Admyrall of
Fraunce and widow of Telligny.

The Statuary of the last old Eare of Arundell fitzallen, Lo: Chamberleyne to k:
H: 8. and K: Edw: 6. and Lo: Steward to Quene Mar, and Q. Elizabeth.
The Statuary of Willm Harbert first Earle of Pembroke, created by King Edward
the sixt Lo: Steward to Quene Elizabeth.
The Statuary of Thomas first Lo: Darcv of Chiche created by King Edw: 6 Lo:
Chamberleyne to the said K: Edw: drawn by Garlicke [Gerlach Fliccus or Flick].
The Statuary of the Lo: Charles Howard of Effingham, Lord Admyrall of England.
The Statuary of Sir Chrstofer Hatton Knight, as he was being vice-chambereyne to
Q. Elizabeth, [who afterward was Lo: Chancelor of Englande.]
The Statuary of the Lorde Darnely [afterwards K: of Scott] and his brother
Charles Stewarde in one table.
[The Statuary of Robert Dudley Earle of Leieester.]
[The Statuary of Edwarde Earle of Oxfourde.]
[The Statuary of yor Lo seife in yor Parlyament Robes.]
[The Statuary of Monseur brother to Valois laste Kinge of Fraunce in the robes
of yr order]
[The Statuarie of Counte de Home] in the Robes of theire order.
[The Statuare of Counte de Mounteny]
[The Statuarie of Robte Earle of Sussex Anno 1593.]
[The Statuarie of Thomas Lord Broughe in his Robes of the Garter.]


The Picture of King Richard the Second.
Of King Henry the fourthe.
Of King Henry the fiveth.

Of King Henry the sixt.
Of King Edward the fourthe.
Of King Richard the third.
Of King Henry the seaventh.

Of Quene Eiizabeth his wife.
Of Prince Arthur their eldest sonne.
Of King Henry the eight.
Of King Edw: 6. being Prince.
Of Quene Marye, drawne by Garlicke..
Of Quene Elizabeth as she was comyng first to the Crowne.

And agayne, as she was the xxxth yeare of her Reigne.
[Of Stephen Batre Kinge of Powland.]
[Of Sigismond Kinge of Poland sonne to John Kinge of Swethiand.]

[Of Sigismonde Batre Prince of Transsilvania a 1595.]
[Of Phillip sonne to the Kynge of Spayne that now is.]
Of the Duke of Richemond, base sonne to K: H: 8.

Of Steven [Batere] King of Poland 1583.
Of the Duke of Savoy Regent in Flaunders doone by Jaques Pindar.
Of the Duke of Parma, Regent in Flaunders.
Of the Duke of Alva, governor in Flaunders, doone by Anthony Moorey.
Of the Duke of Askott 1583.
[Of the Duke of Sert.]
Of the County Egmond executed at Bruxels, drawne by Steven.
Of the Duke of Burbon, slayne at the sackinge of Rome.
Of Henry Valoys last of that name, king of Fraunce, murthered.
Of Henrye Duke of Guyse murthered by the said kinge.
Of Aibertus Cardinall of Austria now governor of the Lowe Countryes. Of Andrew
Dore Prince of Meiph.
[Of Philip de Rove a councelor to the K. of Spayne.]
Of Balthazar Geraertez gent, a Burgunyan, who murthered the Prince of Orange.
President Viglius, a Great Councellor to Charles the Vth, drawne by Jaques
Of Haward a Dutch Juellor, drawne for a Maisters prize by his brother Haunce
Of Sebastian Gabote the great Navigator.
[Of Ignatius de Loyola first founder of the societie of Jesus.]
[Of Franciscus Xaverius firste of the jesuites whiche brought the Christian
faythe unto ye Indians.]
Sir Thomas Stukeiey slayne wth the thre Christians kings.
Of Bocchas,
Of Petrarke.
Of Dante.
Of Oriosto.
Of sir Gefferev Chawcer knight.
Of Buckenel the Scott.
Of Raphael de Urbino, the great paynter.
Of Wilim Somer, K: H: 8: notable foole.
Of Theophrastus Paracelsus.
[Margaret daughter to Duke of Anjoy and wife to K. Henry 6th.]
Of Elizabeth wife to King Edw: 4.
Of Margaret Countesse of Richemonde and Darby arid mother to K: H: 7.
Ot Quene Katheryn, mother to Quene Marye.
Of Quene Jane mother to K: Edw: 6:
Of Quene Katherin Parre, last wife to K: H: 8.
Of [Isabel] wife to Charles the Vth Empor, mother to K: Phillip.
Of Mary Quene of Scottes. executed in Englande.
Of [Elizabeth] Q: wife to the Frenche Kinge, Charles the 9:
[Of Isabel daughter to Phillip the second K: of Spayne.]
Of the Duchesse of Savoye.
Of a Frenche Duchesse.


A Speciall picture of Christ cast in mould by Raphael de Urbino, brought into
England from Rome by CardynalI Poole.
Thre notable peics of hangings, One of Christ his passage with his Crosse to his
Passion, The other of his passion, And the third of his judgement doone by Henry
Houmfrey, Thes were thos especiall peices, yt honge in S Magnus churche at the
bridge foote in London. geve away.
A large picture of or blessed Lady with Christ her sonne in her Armes.
A large table of the Passion of Christ crucified, doone by Mr Schore of Utright.
A table of the lower Evangelists, supporting Christ.
A picture of St Hierome.
The picture of our Ladie wth Christ in her armes togithr with St Catherine
and St Jhon Baptist on Canvasse.
The Passion of Christ cutt in black stone.
A great large table in folds of the Passion, very auncient and notable.
A table of Sainct Pawie preachinge.
A large table of Charite doone by Vincent of Macklen.
A large table of Noe, doone by Fraunce Fiores of Anwarpe.
A large table of the Rape of Helena, drawne by Cleave Haunce of Anwarpe.
A table of a young man fancying the riche old woman.
A large table of the maner of banquetting in Flaunders.
A table of Anchises and Aeneas.
A table of Juno and Jupiter.
A table of Venus and Adonis.
A table of Dives and Lazarus.
A table of the building of BabeIl.
A table of Judith and Holofernes.
A table of the sale of Joseph by his brethren.
A table on the conyng pspective of death and a woman, doone by Hilliarde.
A table of the Ficlenes of Fortune.
A counterfeyt of an old booke.
A table of Cooker-ye.
Two large tables of China woork.
A table of Hercules.
The 9: worthies in roundes enealed.
A great table of the birthe of Christ.
A great table of the fower Evangelistes
A great table of the corversion of St Pawie.
A great booke of Pictures doorie by Haunce Hoihyn of cer:vne Lordes, Lad yes,
gentlemen and gentlewomen in King Henry the 8: his tyme, their names subscribed
by S john Cheke Secretary to King Edward the 6 booke was King Edward the 6.
A great table of the temptacions of St Antony.
A great table of a Dutche woman selling of fruyte.


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