Saturday, April 25, 2009

Question from Diane - What Mary "Rose" Tudor is holding

What is Henry VIII's sister Mary holding in her hand in the "Cloth of gold and cloth of frieze" portrait (among others) with her husband, Suffolk?

There is a copy in Mary's gallery on this website.


Kathy said...

Oh, the time I spent working this one out!

What she is holding is a globe artichoke.

Sorry I can't provide you with links to coronation pictures, but I'm sure Lara has some. And there are many across the internet. If you look at them, especially the Elizabeth I coronation portrait, you see that newly crowned rulers usually had a scepter in one hand and an orb(globe) in the other.

At the time Mary married Charles Brandon, she was an annointed Queen (of France) and presumably would have held these items at her coronation, though there doesn't seem to be an surviving coronation portrait.

When she married Charles Brandon, she had to give up these trappings of ruling royalty. Though as an annointed queen (a title conferred by a religious ceremony), she always held that rank, by marrying a mere duke, she surrendered her former status.

So the "wedding portrait" (I use quotation marks to show that there are some very serious doubts that this is actually a wedding portrait. I think it was probably painted in the early 1520's, but that's another issue) is an elaborate visual pun showing the "downgrade" of her status.

Instead of holding an orb/globe she is holding a globe artichoke, indicating her realm is considerably less than it was. She is now the ruler of a mere physical estate representing Charles' land holdings in England, rather than the realm she previously ruled. And instead of holding a scepter, she is holding her husband's hand. The feminist in me likes to think that means she rules her husband *S*. But, in any case, it means her authority as a queen is considerably lessened compared to what it had been.

Diane said...

Thanks Kathy. I thought it looked like an artichoke but I couldn't figure out why a royal lady would be holding one unless it was connected to the Brandon family in some way.

Kathy said...

Diane, no it isn't connected to the Brandons in any way that I'm aware of.

An orb is a representation of a "globe" and a globe artichoke is shaped very roughly the same as an orb and is connected through the word globe itself.

From what I've seen, this is fairly typical in Tudor portraits. Everything in it could have a possible meaning that may be literal or metaphorical. Of course the success of the accoutrements in a portrait depended very much on the intelligence and ability of the artist.

Ph.D Historian, I know you have looked very carefully at various Tudor portraits? I'm curious if you agree with my interpretation?

Foose said...

Kathy, I have read that the artichoke was introduced to France from Italy by Catherine de Medici, an event that occurs later than the date of the portrait. However, Catherine is also said to have introduced Italian cooking and the side-saddle, but reputable historians disagree with Catherine being the origin of these items, so the artichoke story may not be correct. Did you come across anything about that in your research?

Also, I understand that the artichoke was thought to have aphrodisiac properties by the ancient Greeks. I don't know if that belief was prevalent during the Renaissance. If it was, do you think the presence of the artichoke might hint at a possible criticism of or at least symbolize the nature of Mary's second marriage as founded on passion?

Kathy said...

Foose, I didn't look into the date that artichokes were introduced into England, because, honestly, that IS a globe artichoke that Mary is holding. It really can't be anything else. (Look it up on google images)

From what I have read, they were growing in Henry VIII's gardens by 1530 at least, but could have been introduced earlier, though they certainly were not widely available.

We don't know who the original painter of the "wedding portrait" is. It may very well have been a non-Englishman who was aware of the globe artichoke, especially its name in English and the "pun" possibilities.

Also, thanks for mentioning it, as I forgot to include mention of it earlier, but the artichoke was indeed considered to have aphrodisiacal properties. So that makes its inclusion even more interesting regarding Mary and Charles.

The main problem I have with this picture is the generally acceptable date of 1516. It has been considered as a companion portrait to that of Margaret of Scotland, Mary's older sister, who visited England in 1516. But I just don't see it.

For one thing, Mary is wearing a French hood, which, if that date is accurate, would be the very earliest example of that in English portraiture. Obviously, if that date is correct, she would have just come over from France, but the hood doesn't show up until several years later.

The main thing that bothers me though is that both she and Charles are wearing black. Black was a mourning color and not considered fashionable as it is today. I think it is more likely that the portrait dates from the early 1520's when they would have been in mourning for their first son, named Henry Brandon as was their second son who was proclaimed First Earl of Lincoln shortly after his birth. I suspect this portrait was painted around that time.

Foose said...

Brandon is wearing the chain of the Garter, with the multiple links inscribed "Honi soit qui mal y pense," which is the Garter motto; while displaying Brandon's rank and favor with the king, perhaps this also balances the carnal suggestion of the artichoke or offers a kind of ironic counterpoint to it.

Can you make out the badge and ornaments on Brandon's hat?

PhD Historian said...

Well, Kathy, since you asked ....

Yes, that is definitely an artichoke in her hand, at least in the portrait on this site from the collection of the Earl of Yarborough.

I checked a few herbals and books of "physick" (apothecary and medical manuals of the Tudor era) and found that artichokes were used to cure a variety of ills, ranging from vomiting to "running of the reins" (the modern term: gonorrhea). The latter contrasts rather ironcially with Foose's understanding that it was also an aphrodisiac.

From William Bullein's Bulwarke of defence against all sicknesse, soarenesse, and woundes that doe dayly assaulte mankinde (1562): "This fruicte doth nourish the body, and increaseth the seede of generation, both in Men & Women, if it bee well sodden, in potage or Wyne, and is a provydence of Nature, and healeth."

From John Gerard's The herball or Generall historie of plantes (1633): "It stayeth the involuntarie course of the naturall seed either in man or woman [i.e., prevents nocturnal emissions in men]. Some write that if the buds of yong Artichokes be first steeped in wine, and eaten, they provoke urine, and stir up the lust of the body. I finde moreover, that the root is good against the ranke smell of the arme-holes [i.e., body odor], if when the pith is taken away the same root be boyled in wine and drunke: for it sendeth forth plenty of [...] urine, whereby the ranke and rammish savor [i.e., goat-like odor] of the whole body is much amended."

In general, I think we can safely assume that artichoke was something of a cure-all. And that correlates nicely with the caduceus in the form of a Tau cross atop the artichoke. The caduceus carried the connotation of "wise as serpents but harmless as doves." This may well have been intended as an apologetic or conciliatory gesture toward Henry VIII, from whom Brandon had earned considerable distrust and disfavor for having wed Mary without permission.

The Tau cross symbolizes reformation of one's life and redemption.

Taken together, I would interpret the artichoke, the caduceus, and the Tau cross as a graphic depiction of Henry and Mary Brandon's desire for forgiveness and interpersonal "healing of wounds" between themselves and Henry VIII. It is a visual signal that they wish in future to live according to the king's wishes and to heal the rift and to regain the king's trust and favor.

As for the wearing of black ... that has to be one of the most misinterpreted things in early modern portraiture. Yes, black as a color was symbolic of grief and sadness. However, it was also symbolic of constancy, a positive quality. And in heraldry, the color "black" is referred to as "sable" and is considered (along with white) the most noble of colors. Further, achieving a rich black color in cloth dying was a technically difficult and lengthy process, so that the resulting fabric was among the most expensive. Only the wealthiest could afford clothing made from textiles dyed deepest black. It is therefore often inappropriate to assume that the presence of black attire indicates mourning. It might as easily indicate nobility ("sable") or wealth. In this instance, I believe it denotes both nobilty and wealth, not mourning. And when linked to the artichoke, etc, I believe it amplifies the symbolism of those elements and further denotes a desire to remain "constant" in their relationship with Henry VIII.

Foose, the "badge" on Brandon's hat appears to be a simple enseigne brooch, and most probably depicts a saint. Such brooches were very common.

kb said...

I'm fairly certain the artichoke was also considered a symbol of fertility.

kb said...

OK - It does look very much like an artichoke, but what the heck is sticking out of the top? Something metal with a T top, a spiral around it and some wings? Huh?

Do you think perhaps this was over-painted and there was something else there before?

Roland H. said...

PhD Historian is correct about Black not necesarily being the color of mourning.

'Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII' (by Maria Hayward) mentions that royalty actually wore blue.

kb said...

Thanks PhD historian for clarifying the rest of the symbol. I was unfamiliar with it. But your analysis seems very sound.

I also get frustrated with the assumption that black meant mourning. White was also used for mourning in France at least. Elizabeth wore black and white and at one point ordered her ladies to restrict their wardrobe to black or/and white.

Kathy said...

Thanks, PhD Historian. I had totally forgotten to mention the caduceus. It's obviously there because of its resemblance to the cross that would be found on an orb in a coronation portrait. Walter Richardson says that the caduceus was a symbol of the god Mercury who ruled the month of May and that may just represent the fact that Mary and Charles were married in May (for the third time). I've never been really happy with that explanation though.

Foose, Charles Brandon was proud of being a Garter Knight and took the honor very seriously. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him wearing the Garter badge. I don't think that it necessarily means anything symbolic in the portrait. Nor did medallions on caps ever seem to mean anything particular.

I'm still dubious about their dressing in black for what is considered to be a wedding portrait. That just seems to strike an odd note.

Foose said...

Mary Queen of Scots was abused for marrying [Bothwell] in May -- "wantons marry in the month of May," ran the proverb.

The twined serpents on the caduceus may also be a symbol of fertility.

In Greek myth, the mortal Cadmus marries the goddess Harmonia; at the end of their lives, they are transformed into snakes and inhabit the Isles of Bliss. I found one source that suggested that these might be the origin of the snakes on the caduceus; it might signify the unequal but happy partnership between Princess Mary and Brandon. (And like Cadmus and Harmonia, their descendants came to unhappy ends, although the artist could hardly know that.)

But these are just speculations. The artichoke/caduceus combination is repeated in a portrait of Francois I of France and his second wife, Eleanor of Austria. In view of the French-Habsburg rivalry, it seems fair to interpret it as a sign of concord and amity after quarrels.

Tudorrose said...

The colour black was worn in mourning and also black was worn by widows.For example Mary queen of scots wore black up until she was executed this was after her second husband Lord Darnley was murdered.A widow would have had to wear black up until she remarried.Also I think black was a popular fashionable colour to wear during the renaissance period.