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The Virtue of a King and the Desire of a Woman? Mythological representations in the collection of Queen Christina

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The centre of Queen Christina’s Roman collection of paintings was the so-called ‘Great Room’ or ‘Sala dei quadri’, as described by the Swedish architect Tessin the Younger. Here the abdicated queen chose to concentrate not only the artistic highlights of her collection – such as the Madonna del Passeggio attributed to Raphael – but also the allegorical and mythological paintings by Titian, Veronese and Correggio, stemming largely from her earlier conquest of Prague. Several questions become pressing in the light of the marked dominance of female nudes among these works, questions which form the focus of this paper. Firstly, how did Christina relate to the pictorial subjects on display here? Secondly, can the paintings of a collection that served a representational function and reflected a pronouncedly personal taste also be interpreted as an expression of personal desire?

The broad thematic spectrum present in the paintings in this room – encompassing female lust and chastity as well as male desire and renunciation – and one evidently brought together by Christina for programmatic effect, left little space for anything but a ‘male’ gaze, a sexually ambivalent notion in the light of Christina’s personality.

The present analysis of the Great Room and of the objects in it, including Bernini’s famous allegorical mirror and an antique bronze head thought by Christina to depict Alexander, shows the room to be the bearer of a programma virtutis, one that is modelled on Christina’s image in spite of its ‘male’ impulse. The virtus described is not that of the woman Christina, however, but of the formerly reigning Queen Christina Alexandra, whose regal self-image combined a female body private with a male body politic.
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Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: Technische Universit├Ąt, Munich

Publication date: 2001-04-01

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