Page last updated at 14:43 GMT, Thursday, 5 June 2008 15:43 UK

Starkey backs Rubens art campaign

Detail of The Apotheosis of James I
The sketch is valued at £11.5m on the open market

TV historian David Starkey has backed a campaign to save a Rubens sketch for the nation.

The oil sketch, called The Apotheosis of James I, was commissioned by Charles I for the ceiling of the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London.

Tate Britain began fundraising in March to raise £6m by 31 July and prevent the sketch from being sold abroad.

Starkey said: "It seems to me that it is absolutely unthinkable that this leaves the country."

He added: "This work is of the utmost significance to British history.

"The Banqueting House ceiling is the most important painting set within an architectural context in England and this sketch is the key to its composition.

"The loss of the sketch would be a fundamental betrayal of our national heritage and it is inconceivable that it move from Britain."

The large-scale oil sketch, valued at over £11m on the open market, has been kept in a private collection in England for more than 200 years.

David Starkey
Starkey's TV shows include Monarchy and The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Rubens was one of the most celebrated artists of his time, and the sketch was commissioned around 1628 while he was visiting Britain as an ambassador for King Philip IV of Spain.

The work is Rubens' first sketch for seven of the nine eventual component panels of the Whitehall ceiling.

Stephen Deuchar, director of Tate Britain, described it as an "icon of British history".

"This sketch, which represents Rubensís first visualisation of the project, allows us into the mind's eye of one of the greatest artists working anywhere at the time and shows the earliest stage of his creative process," he said.

"There could simply be no better place than Tate Britain to explore its national importance and recognise its truly memorable contribution to British art history."

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