A lost portrait of King James’s rumoured gay lover has been found after more than 400 years.
The portrait, by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, was rediscovered hanging in a property in Glasgow, where it had been assumed it was a copy.
However the painting, was verified to be real by antiquities expert Dr Bendor Grosvenor during BBC Four show Britain’s Lost Masterpieces.
The painting shows George Villiers, widely believed to have been one of the male lovers of King James VI and I, who ruled from 1567 to 1625 and is best known for commissioning the King James Bible.
After winning the affection of the King as a young man, Villiers was handed a rapid succession of honours – becoming a Knight, an Earl, and later Duke of Buckingham.
Though plenty of evidence exists to support a relationship between the King and Villiers, it was long airbrushed from public view.
Dr Grosvenor said: “The chance to discover a portrait of such a pivotal figure in British history by one of the greatest artists who ever lived has been thrillingly exciting.”
During the restoration of James’ favourite royal residence Apethorpe Palace in 2008, a secret passage was even discovered that linked the King’s bedchamber to George’s
Meanwhile there are many textual records of the pair’s affections for one another.
King James told his Privy Council of the Duke: “You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled.
“I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed.
“Christ had his John, and I have my George.”
In his letters to the King, George wrote: “I naturally so love your person, and adore all your other parts, which are more than ever one man had.”
Though the pair’s relationship has not commonly been addressed in public before, it is far from new information.
Writing in 1785, philosopher Jeremy Bentham suggested that King James was a hypocrite for leading a crackdown on sodomy.
Bentham wrote: “[James I], if he be the author of that first article of the works which bear his name, and which indeed were owned by him, reckons this practise among the few offences which no Sovereign ever ought to pardon.
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“This must seem rather extraordinary to those who have a notion that a pardon in this case is what he himself, had he been a subject, might have stood in need of.”
The new painting of Villiers was uncovered in Pollok House, a National Trust property in Glasgow.
It will now go on display at Glasgow Museums’ Kelvingrove gallery, after the BBC Four programme based on its discovery airs.
David McDonald, who heads the museums service, told the Scotsman: “Unsurprisingly, we are beyond delighted to discover the painting is by Rubens, an artist renowned globally as one of the most important painters in history.
“Glasgow is proud of its extensive art collection, considered by many to be amongst the finest in Europe.
“Glasgow Museums strive to learn more about the artwork in our care and it has been a joy to work with Britain’s Lost Masterpieces to understand much more about this remarkable painting.
“We are excited to give as many people as possible the opportunity to see Rubens’ masterpiece in person.
“George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham is sure to become one of the undoubted highlights of any visit to Kelvingrove.”