Johan Joseph Zoffany, “Queen Charlotte,” 1771, oil on canvas, © Royal Collection Trust

Although “Ivy League” is a term most closely associated with academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and social elitism, it can also be used to describe an outstanding exhibition of nearly 300 objects from Enlightenment Europe on view now at Yale University.

Caroline of Ansbach, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, and Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz — three German princesses who married into the British royal family in the 18th century — are the focus of a stunning exhibition of nearly 300 artworks at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven. Opened on February 2, “Enlightened Princesses” explores the lasting legacies of these important women and how each shaped courtly life. “They encouraged the greatest philosophers, scientists, artists, and architects of the day,” the center notes, “and they brought art, music, dance, enlightened conversation, and experimentation into the palaces and royal gardens, and supported industry, trade, and imperial ambition.”

Joseph Highmore, “Queen Caroline of Ansbach,” circa 1735, oil on canvas, Royal Collection Trust
Joseph Highmore, “Queen Caroline of Ansbach,” circa 1735, oil on canvas, Royal Collection Trust

On view through April 30, the exhibition includes important artworks and manufacture, which either belonged to the women themselves or their families, or was commissioned by them. Among the highlights are works by Hans Holbein, William Kent, Allan Ramsay, Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Stubbs, Thomas Gainsborough, and Johan Zoffany.

Continuing, the center writes, “[the exhibition] focuses on five themes, explaining the princesses’ activities and interlocking contributions over the course of their lifetimes. Firstly, ‘Cultures of Learning: Powerful Conversations’ examines how Caroline, Augusta, and Charlotte built pivotal relationships with leading cultural and intellectual figures of their age, and the far-reaching consequences of those exchanges. This leads into a consideration of ‘The Court as a Stage,’ not only in the literal sense for the performance of music, dance, and theater but also as a political and cultural arena in which the princesses had to navigate the inherently political nature of public and private life.

Allan Ramsay, “Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales,” 1769, oil on canvas, © Collection of H.R.H. Hereditary Prince Ernst August of Hanover
Allan Ramsay, “Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales,” 1769, oil on canvas, © Collection of H.R.H. Hereditary Prince Ernst August of Hanover

“‘Royal Women: Mothers of the Nation’ considers the princesses’ engagement with evolving contemporary philosophies about childhood, both as active contributors to the educational programs devised for their own children and in their public roles as encouragers and protectors committed to the development of wide-reaching philanthropic projects. Next, ‘To Promote and Protect: The Princesses and the Wider World’ shows how the princesses supported enterprising industrialists and furnished their own homes and developed their gardens, so as to champion national manufacturers and the produce of empire. Finally, a concluding section on ‘Political Gardening’ shows how Caroline, Augusta, and Charlotte explored contemporary garden philosophies and exercised their architectural ambitions for both personal and political ends, all the while reacting to a volatile commercial environment as well as a changing perception of the bonds between the dynasty, nationhood, and empire.”

To learn more, visit the Yale Center for British Art.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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