The source of the story about Bernini’s comments about the physiognomy of Charles I has now been solved, thanks to Per Rumberg. Long before Evelyn’s Numismata was published, Edmund Ludlow, a parliamentarian MP and regicide, wrote an autobiography, called A voyce from the watch tower, in which he described how the King ‘was very desirous to have his statue cut in stone by that famous ingraver Barnardino at Rome, had sent severall pieces drawne by choice hands, as Vandike and others, for his better direction therein, the said Barnardino delayd the dispatch thereof till, upon letters from England complayning thereof, he was pressed thereunto by the Pope and Cardinall Barbarino, who was entituled the Protector of the English. And when, upon much importunity, he gave an account to those who had set him on worke that he had finished it, hee said, There are so many cross-angles in the physiognomy of him for whom it’s cut, that he would come to some ill end’. Ludlow adds that when the statue arrived in the Queen’s House in Greenwich, a bird flew through the window and blood ran down the King’s face.
My concentration on Bernini made me forget to mention that I went to see the Eddie Peake exhibition at White Cube last night, braving the cold winds of Bermondsey to see the way in which he has colonised one of the large galleries with a set of works under the title Concrete Pitch, including a set of steel tables (they look medical, but apparently come from a garden centre) which hold the detritus of his childhood on Stroud Green Road (not quite as pink as they look in the photograph):-
In order to complete this run of posts about Englishmen who were in Rome in October 1638, I need to say something about Thomas Baker, the wealthy country gentleman from Whittingham Hall in Suffolk, who is presumed to have been the person who brought Van Dyck’s triple portrait of Charles I with him for Bernini to make his lost bust. He was on the continent at least intermittently from 1634, signing the visitor’s book at the English College in Rome on 16 November 1636, and seeing Bernini at the same time as Nicholas Stone. He was so impressed by the quality of Bernini’s work that he ‘wooed him a long time to make his effigies in marble’. Money was no object and he paid him 6,000 scudi, well over the going rate, to undertake his bust, now in the V&A, in spite of the fact that Bernini was under the strictest possible papal orders not to undertake new commissions.
So the question is: who was Nicholas Stone the younger and what was he doing in Rome chatting to Bernini ? The answer is that he was the second son of the Dutch-trained sculptor, who was responsible for so many of the greatest church monuments in Charles’s reign, including the great monument to John Donne in St. Paul’s. His mother was the daughter of Hendrick de Keyser in whose workshop in Amsterdam his father had trained. He trained in his father’s workshop, but decided to travel to Italy ‘being an ingenious youth, and desirous to learn some more art in Italy’. He set off in March 1638, met up with his older brother, Henry, in Paris, and they travelled together, first to Florence, where Nicholas did drawings from Grand Duke Ferdinand II’s art collections and then to Rome, where he planned ‘there to practise and attain a great perfection’ and, as described, met up with ‘Cavalyer Bernino’ on 22 October 1638. A few days later he was taken to see what Bernini was working on in St. Peter’s, was given advice about his drawings, and encouraged to spend time in Bernini’s workshop in order to learn ‘his manner of workeng’. He spent the next four years in Rome, before returning to London by way of Bologna, where he met Guido Reni. Back in London, he doesn’t seem to have made much use of what he had learned from his travels, other than trade in stone from his father’s yard and, according to George Vertue, palm off some of his own drawings as if they were ‘the works of famous Italian artists’. He died in 1647, the same year as his father.
In trying to find the source of Bernini’s account of Charles I’s features as being so unfortunate, I came across a recent transcription of Nicholas Stone’s travel journal, which describes his visit to meet Bernini and what Bernini had to say about his bust of Charles I. I reproduce it for its extraordinary vividness (with acknowledgement to earlymodernjohn who was responsible for the transcription), its sense of Bernini chatting away to a fellow sculptor:
being in a very good umour he askt me whether I had seene the head of marble which was sent into england for the King and to tell him the truth of what was spoken of itt. I told him that whosoever I had heard admired itt nott only for the exquisitenesse of the worke but the likeness and nere resemblance itt had to the King countenaunce he sayd that divers had told him so much but he can nott believe itt, then he began to be very free in his discourse to aske if nothing was broke of itt in carryage and how itt was preserved now from danger. I told him that when as I saw itt that all was hole and safe the which sathe I wonder att but I tooke (sayth he) as much care for the packing as […] in making of itt also I told him that now itt was preserved with a coife of silke, he desyred to know in what manner I told him that itt was made like a bagg gatherd together on the top of the head and drawne together with a strink under the body with very great care, he answered he was afraid thatt would be the cause to breake itt for sayes he in my time of doing of itt I did cover itt per the like manner to keepe itt from the flyes but with a gre=a=t deale of danger, because in taking of the case if itt hangs att any of the little lockes of hayre or one the worke of the band itt would be presently defaced for itt greivd him to heare itt was broke, being he had taken so great paines and study on itt.
I had a letter this morning asking me about the story that, when Bernini received the triple portrait of Charles I by Van Dyck as the model for the bust which the King had commissioned, he is said to have declared, ‘Never have I beheld features more unfortunate’. The question was: what is the source of this anecdote and is there any truth to it ?
It’s surprisingly hard to trace. The story is repeated by Horace Walpole in his Anecdotes of Painting as if it is already too well known to bear repeating. The earliest reference to it that I have so far found it is in James Welwood’s Memoirs of the most material transactions in England, for the last Hundred Years (London, 1718) in which he describes how Charles I ‘had something in the Lines and Features which Physiognomists account unfortunate: And it’s commonly reported, that his Picture being sent to Rome to have a Busto done by it; a famous Statuary, not knowing whose it was, told the Gentleman that brought it, He was sorry if it was the Face of any Relation of his; for it was one of the most Unfortunate he ever saw; and according to all the Rules of Art, the Person whose it was must die a violent Death‘ (p.68).
Does anyone know its origin ?