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Stephen Chambers and the Kingdom of Redonda: art's biggest in-joke?

Stephen Chambers, State of the Nation, 2016-17. Oil on linen
Stephen Chambers, State of the Nation, 2016-17. Oil on linen Credit: Stephen Chambers Studio, by courtesy of the Heong Gallery at Downing College, Cambridge

Portraits on show at the Venice Biennale are part of a very old in-joke. Alastair Sooke explains

On the other side of the Atlantic, among the Leeward Islands in the West Indies, an obscure, barren outcrop called Redonda rises out of the ocean. Discovered and named by Christopher Columbus in 1493, this Caribbean islet is little more than a scrap of volcanic rock, a mile long and a third of a mile wide. Edged with forbidding cliffs and devoid of fresh water, its only inhabitants are seabirds and rats.

Today, Redonda belongs officially to Antigua and Barbuda. Unofficially, though, it exists autonomously, in a parallel universe of the imagination, as the Kingdom of Redonda. This fanciful realm is the subject of a new suite of paintings by the British artist Stephen Chambers. The Court of Redonda goes on show today, in a palazzo on Venice’s Grand Canal, as part of the city’s Biennale.

“I first...

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