Details of Rubens' canvases
The three main canvases
The canvases were painted by Sir Peter Paul Rubens and installed in the hall in 1636. The three main canvases depict The Union of the Crowns, The Apotheosis of James I and The Peaceful Reign of James I
The Union of the Crowns
The canvas immediately above the entrance to the Main Hall depicts The Union of the Crowns. This canvas, like the two beside it, faces the south end of the hall from where the monarch, sitting on his throne, would have been able to see it the right way round.
It shows the peaceful union of the crowns of England and Scotland achieved through the accession of James I of England and VI of Scotland (1603-25), who was proclaimed King of Great Britain on 20 October 1604.
James is seen commanding his infant son Charles to be brought to the throne by personifications of England and Scotland who, with Minerva, hold the two crowns of the kingdoms over his head. At the bottom left of the picture the arms of war are burnt by the torch of peace.
The oval panels on either side of the canvas show the triumph of the Virtues over the Vices. On the left is Hercules, with his club, beating down Envy (or Heroic Virtue destroying Discord or Rebellion); on the right Minerva (or Heroic Wisdom) combatting Ignorance with her spear.
The Apotheosis of James I
The central ceiling canvas faces the entrance, so was directed towards a general audience rather than the king himself. This large oval of The Apotheosis of James I shows the King holding a sceptre with his foot on an imperial globe, being raised aloft by Justice.
It is said to celebrate the Stuart kings' belief in absolute monarchy and the 'Divine Right of Kings'. As James I proclaimed to Parliament 'The State of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth. For kings are not only God's Lieutenants upon earth and sit upon God's throne, but even by God himself they are called gods'.
The long panels on either side of this canvas show paintings of Genii, supernatural creatures, bearing a Garland and Genii playing with animals.
The Peaceful Reign of James I
The final three canvases above the dais at the south end of the hall again face the entrance.
The central canvas represents The Peaceful Reign of James I or the benefits of his government.
James I sits in a splendid architectural setting while two winged figures descend from the sky to crown him with the laurels of victory and a cherub stands at his left shoulder holding a crown.
The female personifications of Peace and Plenty embrace each other on the left as Minerva defeats the serpents of rebellion at the bottom of the canvas.
The oval canvas on the left depicts Reason (or Wise Government) holding a bridle above Intemperate Discord while that on the right shows Abundance (or Royal Bounty), holding a cornucopia, triumphing over Avarice (or Greed).