Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Question from Marilyn R. - Elizabeth's effigy crown, etc.

I spent a large part of last Saturday in Westminster Abbey. We lingered at the tomb of Elizabeth I whose effigy sports the latest crown, the third since the tomb’s completion in 1606. Apparently the previous two were stolen – does anyone have any information about when and how?

We returned for evensong; it was a wonderful experience to be seated in the quire where so many great moments have been celebrated; the choristers were in good voice as well. The day before we took in the Henry exhibition at the British Library, which was excellent and is to be recommended. Lara, you need to get yourself over here!

One of the things that surprised me most was the amount of minute detail on the Mary Tudor/Charles Brandon portrait, especially on his Order of the Garter collar. The objects Mary is holding are very clearly an artichoke and a caduceus, as discussed on earlier post on this site. The British Library is slightly off the beaten tourist track and there were few visitors to the exhibition, so we could have the luxury of reading all the information at our leisure. I’m from Lincolnshire and felt rather emotional at being so close to the Pilgrimage of Grace documents and those dealing with the killing of the carthusians at Tyburn, one of whom was the prior from the Epworth Charterhouse, a few miles from where I live.

Although all the documents were a joy to see, if I could have brought anything home it would have been the Sittow 1502 portrait of the young Katherine of Aragon, much smaller than I had expected but beautifully painted. Is the halo-like object behind her part of her headdress?


Lara said...

Oh, how I wish I could have made it over this year, but I just couldn't afford it. But at least I managed to get the catalog for the exhibition... I know it is no substitute for seeing the real documents, but it will have to suffice.

PhD Historian said...

Yes, the halo-like golden ring in the Sittow portrait is actually the edge of her headpiece, similar to piping on the brim of a modern hat. Her headpiece is quite large.

The extreme attention paid by the artist to the details of the costumes worn by Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon in their portrait is actually very common among sixteenth-century portraits in general. As has been discussed in portrait-related threads on this site and elsewhere, clothing, the fabrics from which clothing was made, and jewels were all indicators of identity, wealth, and status. Thus artists went to great lengths to depict them with a degree of realism that often exceeds the realism of the facial features. Odd as it may seem to us today, living in an age of photography and multimedia, persons commissioning portraits in the sixteenth century were often more concerned with how their clothes appeared in their portraits than how their face appeared. Art historians have written many volumes on the subject.