Home Arts A lesson from the Tudors in the legitimizing power of art

A lesson from the Tudors in the legitimizing power of art

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Tudor monarchs exerted a fascination on publishers and film/TV production companies looking for guaranteed audiences. With the success of The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and its recent opening at Cleveland Museum of Art (until May 14), the time seems opportune to ask: is there anything else to say about the Tudors?

The accompanying catalog consists of nine chapters, interspersed with entries for the objects included in the various iterations of the exhibition (in three locations). The scale of effort by Met curators Elizabeth Cleland and Adam Eaker is beautifully apparent in a publication that does justice to the visual and material dimensions of its subject matter. Anyone interested in the Tudors will want to own this book, but whether it will inspire further research is less clear.

The essays and entries focus on the links between the decorative and visual arts, and their deployment by Tudor monarchs as a means of legitimizing and consolidating their authority. This will not be news to anyone even vaguely aware of the success of Tudor royal propaganda and their habit of emblazoning the buildings with their crests, and the promise of unity and stability (after the civil wars of the Roses of the 15th century) conveyed by the dynastic motif of the Tudor union
pink. More surprising is the scale of activity in Europe, with a range of less familiar objects here juxtaposed with instantly recognizable images, such as Quentin Metsys the Younger The portrait of the sieve bright images of Elizabeth I and Holbein from the court of Henry VIII.

A highly unusual item discussed is an embroidered portrait of Elizabeth I (Cat. No. 65), combining painted vellum for the Queen’s face and hands with intricate embroidery using silk, sequins, beads, gold, silver threads and human hair for the queen, a seemingly unique and “remarkable” survival. In such objects we glimpse a luxurious material environment that represents a tiny percentage of the riches that once adorned the Tudor court.

Size logistics

We also get a glimpse of the practical dimensions of providing so much grandeur, thinking about how stained glass designs for King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, moved from Dirck Vellert’s Antwerp studio to production in a workshop. to Southwark, London, then by water. at Cambridge (cat. no. 18). London silversmith Affabel Partridge is traced through his birdmark (Cat. Nos. 40, 60, 61) and the possibility that he was host to Lady Jane Gray during her short stay in the tower before her execution in 1554. Recent research is brought to bear in the discussion of the portrait of a young woman in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, once considered to represent Katherine of Aragon, but now reidentified as Marie Tudor, later Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk (Cat. No. 13).

Another novel idea and eye-catching interpretation focuses on a late 15th to early 16th century velvet fabric in gold upholstery textile. In his chapter, England, Europe, and the World: Art as Policy, Cleland writes that it is “tempting to hypothesize” that Henry VII adapted the design to create his device of the Tudor rose. The idea is intriguing, although further investigation of the references given reflects the difficulty of achieving certainty. (It’s unfortunate that the Met’s online catalog presents the hypothesis as fact.)

by Nicholas Hilliard The Heneage Jewel (c. 1595-1600), tribute to Elizabeth I as sovereign and supreme governor of the Church of England

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

No bibliography can be exhaustive (this one spans 23 pages), but there are some surprising omissions: no mention of Claire Gapper’s work on plaster, Tara Hamling and Catherine Richardson’s studies of material culture, by Nigel Llewellyn on funerary monuments, or the spectacular work of Matthew Dimmock on the study of Elizabethan globalism (Yale 2019). Indeed, the overarching dimension of the Tudor world is not considered extensively, with only brief hints of a larger subject via entries relating to imported objects featuring Indian mother-of-pearl and Chinese porcelain. It is surprising to find Neville Williams’s books on the Tudors and their courts cited, but not more substantial works of judicial and political history.

It is also remarkable to find a publication on the Tudors and their courts that contains so few references to the politics of the time. This could be seen as a virtue, avoiding yet another review of Henry VIII’s labors in search of a fertile wife or the precise bodily status of Elizabeth I. Yet the distinctions that still exist between the studies of people and the politics, literature and art, architecture and the material world of the court, as well as the links with Europe and the rest of the world, remain to be fully overcome. Perhaps the task of bringing these streams of analysis together could prompt a new direction in Tudor studies, to be achieved through collaborative research.

So while this book offers some interesting insights into the Tudors, not just as an extraordinary elite dynasty, but as monarchs who presided over a remarkable era in art, design, and cross-cultural influences, it remains still a lot to say about their world and people. who lived there.

  • Elizabeth Cleland and Adam Eaker, with contributions from Marjorie E. Wieseman and Sarah Bochicchio, The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance EnglandMetropolitan Museum of Art/Yale, 352pp, 300 color illustrations, £50 (hb), published 25th October 2022
  • Janet Dickinson studies the history of the court and the elites in early modern Europe. She teaches in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford and at New York University in London.

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