Ralph Montagu, 1638–1709
Ralph Montagu, later first duke of Montagu, served as ambassador to the court of Louis XIV on two occasions and, at a time when French taste was gaining ground across Europe amongst the aristocratic and political elites, he appears as one of its most enthusiastic supporters. His material legacy – including Boughton House with its extraordinary collection of seventeenth-century decorative art and paintings, furniture, and textiles – has prompted much interest from art historians who have suggested that he was dazzled by the French court and became a leader of the new taste on his return to England. This chapter looks beyond the extant material evidence and considers in more detail his political career, which was inextricably bound up with his social and cultural life, and tries to address what lay behind his lavish consumption. It shows that Montagu’s artistic patronage was politically inspired, a way of manipulating his environment; it was driven by motives of comfort, wealth, and, above all, personal and familial aggrandizement.
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