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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Artwork of the day

Philip II and Mary I, 16th c probably 1558, oil on panel, Woburn Abbey
A dual portrait of Mary and her husband was probably completed shortly before her death. The couple sits in an interior the one next to the other looking at the viewer. At their feet are two dogs, perhaps symbolizing fidelity in their marriage. This is however the only symbol of intimacy between the two and the portrait is a great pictorial representation of how Philip felt about the marriage: a political union aiming at strengthening the role of Spain in Europe.

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Tudor Art- Royal Portraits- Part 3

The reign of Henry VIII’s first two heirs was short. Edward VI was 9 years old when he inherited the throne of his father and 15 when he died. His portraits followed the pattern of his predecessor and the young king looked in official painting like a mini version of Henry VIII. Dressed in similar luxurious clothes, the boy poses in Henry’s iconic posture looking directly at the viewer.
Edward VI, 1547, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, London
Edward and his regents were devout Protestants and their goal was to continue the religious reformation Henry had started. As long the Edward didn’t have children on his own however, the next heir to the throne was his Catholic sister Mary, the daughter of Henry and his first queen Katharine of Aragon. When the young king fell seriously ill and the problem of his succession was imminent, he decided to change his father’s law of succession and designated as his heir Lady Jane Grey, descendant Henry VIII’s sister, Mary. Jane remained queen for just a few days and thus she didn’t manage to leave any official portraits from her time in the throne. Mary managed to regain what was hers and became queen of England having as her main aim to re establish Catholicism in her country. The following portrait was probably painted in 1554 and the necklace Mary wears is thought to be the one given to her by Philip of Spain at the time of their wedding. Mary chose a Spanish husband (her mother Katharine of Aragon was also Spanish) ignoring the reactions of her people who feared the presence of a Spanish King on their throne. Mary however was determined and the inclusion of her husband’s wedding presence in an official portrait would certainly send the message.
Queen Mary I by Hans Eworth, 1554, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, London
The marriage was however unhappy. Philip was constantly absent; it was rumoured that he was not attracted to his wife and the queen had two phantom pregnancies. This is an aspect of Mary that is not particularly stressed as she is most often referred as bloody Mary, the woman who killed thousands of Protestants in her attempt to convert the English to Catholicism. Mary’s story however is among the most tragic of the Tudor dynasty. She was an extremely unhappy individual, rejected by her father in her teens when Henry VIII tried to divorce her mother and marry Anne Boleyn, losing her royal title and always feeling a stranger in a Protestant court; a woman seeking for love but who never found it and who eventually died childless, still quite young, leaving inevitably the throne to her father’s last surviving child: Elizabeth. 

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Thursday, 24 March 2011

Artwork of the day

The Grandstand Fresco, c. 1450 BC, Archaeological Museum, Herakleion, Crete

Groups of wealthy Minoan women are often depicted wearing elegant dresses, jewellery and having elaborate hairstyles that echo to a high status appearance and a competitive behaviour that is part of their strategy for maintaining social control.
The Grandstand Fresco is part of the miniature frescoes found within the Palace of Knossos and most probably depicts the tripartite shrine of the palace. The fresco approximately dates to 1450BC and it has been greatly restored by Evans.
In the Grandstand Fresco, the crowds of men and women watching some sort of a court festival differ so much from each other. The artist chooses to emphasize partly the women’s presence and superiority by creating an almost modern time rococo atmosphere contrary to the smaller size women who may be of a lower social status and to men who are all displayed in an identical manner and who give a chaotic sense that characterizes large crowds of people. The highlighted women although being fewer in number, they are the protagonists of the scene because of their large size pointing though at their importance as individuals or even members of special groups within Minoan society. Concentration on their elegant appearance besides indicating that they belong to the highest level of Minoan society, it may denote a change in the social identity of women who use the attire as their key strategy to advocate their power to similar social human groupings. Minoan female dresses are for the first time so much emphasized in the Neopalatial Period that is at a time period when woman instead of being represented as a mother (as it used to), she is depicted as an attractive mate.

Today's artwork is a generous contribution of Eleftheria Pavli, BA, MA

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Artwork of the day

The Chieftain Cup from Aghia Triada, c. 1550-1450 BC, stone, Archaeological Museum, Herakleion, Crete

A group of Minoans that called for the special attention of the elders were the youth. For this reason the Minoan society had priest-leaders who were responsible for the taking care of the young Cretans until the latter became men. These leaders were the supervisors of the closing stages in the initiation of a youth into manhood. A ceremony which involved the rites of passage of most probably local aristocratic youths is likely to be depicted on the Chieftain Cup from Aghia Triada according to one of the various interpretations of the relief scene. Two male figures are represented confronting each other. The young Minoan on the left with the arm over his shoulder (the initiate) is shown receiving orders from his leader-chief before whom he stands (actually he is bending as an act of respect). The leader appears to be slightly larger with the arm stretched out holding a staff in a pose of command, wearing jewellery, high boots and having the characteristic hairstyle and garment (the Minoan lowing cloth) that signifies his role as the priest-ruler of a group. The Chieftain Cup highlights the importance of leadership in Neopalatial Crete that as a principle it started being introduced to the Minoans from a very young age and it was determinant in the shaping of the Minoan personality. Apart from this explanation, the scene on the Chieftain Cup has been interpreted as a king before a god, as a young aristocratic ruler -a prince- who is standing outside his palace in a commanding pose giving orders to one of his officials, or as two young Minoans playing with each other. 

Today's artwork is a generous contribution of Eleftheria Pavli, BA, MA

Monday, 7 March 2011

Artwork of the day

Anne of Cleves, Hans Holbein, 1539, oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris
There is a great number of portraits from Henry VIII's period. Some were used for propaganda; others served the role photographs play for us today. In the latter category belongs today’s artwork. The portrait of Anne of Cleves, a Dutch princess, was painted by Hans Holbein for a very specific reason. It was to be taken to the king as a picture of the woman who was to become his fourth wife. Henry said yes; Anne came to England and Henry instantly disliked her claiming he would marry her only to satisfy his realm. Anne became queen but the king was never able to see her as his wife suggesting he was not able to perform his marital duties because his consort was so ugly and looked like a ‘mare of Flanders’. Soon after their wedding he was involved in an affair with the teenager Katherine Howard who became wife number 5.
Anne agreed quickly to the annulment and remained in England where the king gave her a number of residences and sufficient money to lead a comfortable and independent life, very few women of her time would ever enjoy. She remained in good terms with Henry and his three children and probably made the best deal than any of Henry’s six wives.
Why Henry disliked Anne so much remains a mystery, as the portrait by Holbein could hardly explain the king’s behaviour. It has been suggested that the painting was not totally true to reality, however this is probably not true as the artist continued to enjoy Henry’s favour.

Picture from: www.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Artwork of the day

Henry Fitzroy, Lucas Hornebolte, c 1534, watercolour and bodycolour on vellum, The Royal Collection
The Tudors had a great problem with surviving sons. Henry VIII's older brother and heir to the throne, Arthur died as a teenager while another brother in childhood. Henry VIII himself saw two sons from Katharine of Aragon dying within weeks from their birth. Both Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn had a series of miscarriages something that certainly contributed to their falls. By 1536 Henry was growing old (in Tudor England standards of course) and had no male heir (he had two daughters but at that time a woman was not considered a sensible choice for the throne). He had however an illegitimate son. Henry Fitzroy was born in 1519 and his mother was one of the king's mistresses, Elizabeth Blount. Henry VIII recognized him as his son and in due time gave him the title of 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset. Was he intending to make him officially his heir in case he did not have any other male children? No one can provide an answer to this question as the boy died as a teenager like his uncle Arthur and his brother, the future Edward VI who was born almost a year after Fitzroy's death. 
This is a lovely miniature portrait of the king's son by Lucas Hornebolt which was created approximately two years before the boy's death. 

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Saturday, 5 March 2011

Artwork of the day

Anne Boleyn, unknown artist, 16th century (probably c 1533-1536), oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, London
It's always difficult to identify centuries-old portraits and even more difficult to date them. This is one of the very few portraits of Henry's second wife and the attribution is almost certain. The mother of Elizabeth I, known for having reigned for only 1000 days, was the great passion of the king who broke with Rome in order to be able to divorce his first wife and marry Anne. Three years later and after Anne had several miscarriages, she was accused of adultery and incest and was executed. Her passionate love affair with the king (from which a number of love letters survive), her allegedly explosive character and tragic end have made her one of the most famous English queens of all time.

Picture from the National Portrait Gallery,

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Artwork of the day

'The Whitehall Mural', copy after a Hans Holbein original from 1537
The original mural occupied a wall in Whitehall palace and was created by Holbein in order to commemorate the birth of Henry VIII's much awaited son, the future Edward VI. The mural was destroyed in a fire in 1698, however some copies and sketches have survived and we have the chance today to look at the picture that shaped the way we see Henry VIII. The king is depicted looking at the viewer and flanked by three dead figures: his father, Henry VII, his mother Elizabeth of York and his third wife, Jane Seymour, who died a few days after giving birth to the king's heir. While all other figures avoid eye contact with the viewer, Henry VIII looks directly at us, his body and face reminding the Thyssen portrait. The new image of the king is further consolidated. He dominates the picture with his broad body, determined gaze while the emphasis on the size of his genitals also sends a special message. 
Only a limited number of people would see this mural, as it was originally placed in the king's privy chamber. These were nevertheless, the people who were supposed to be most loyal to the king and the ones who had to be absolutely convinced of his prowess and his legitimacy to the throne of England.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Tudor art- Royal portraits- Part 2

One of the most famous English monarchs of all times is definitely Henry VIII, the man who introduced Anglicanism by breaking with Rome and the pope; the man who married six wives and executed two of them; the father of Elizabeth I and Bloody Mary.
Henry VIII’s reign however started traditionally. The young king followed his father’s footsteps in almost everything. He married his brother’s widow, the Spanish Princess, Katharine of Aragon, made himself defender of the Catholic faith and supported humanist learning.
In art too, Henry VIII and his court seemed to follow tradition. The portrait below dates from c 1520 and in both style and posture it resembles the representations of Henry VII. 
Henry VIII, unknown artist, c 1520, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, London
Change in Henry VIII’s reign started in the 1530’s and the reforms in religion and the king’s own growing power as head of both the earthly and spiritual domains is mirrored in art. Hans Holbein the younger, an artist from Germany, is credited with transforming royal iconography. The so called Thyssen portrait below from 1536 is radically different from any earlier representations of English monarchs. Henry VIII dominates the picture, his broad shoulders breaking the boundaries of the canvas showing his vigour, determination and strength. He looks straight at the viewer, his face turned in a three quarter view. Even the treatment of the clothes is different. Holbein shows all the luxury of the king’s garments and jewelry with great detail and the artist has even used real gold in certain parts of the painting. 
'The Thyssen Portrait', Hans Holbein, c. 1536, oil on panel, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano
Lloyd, C. and Thurley, S. 1990. Henry VIII. Images of a Tudor King. Oxford: Phaidon
Wooding, L. 2009. Henry VIII. London and New York: Routledge 
Tudor England: Images, Portraits of King Henry VIII, available online at: