Sep 29, 2006

A visit to Henry VIII's court

Simon Jenkins visits the Holbein exhibition at the Tate Britain. Jenkins tries to compare the court of Henry VIII with the cabinet of Tony Blair, which seems a tad forced, but I love this bit.
The depiction of Henry's potential brides was integral to the matrimonial politics of an age, and a king, obsessed with appearance. Holbein had to travel extensively to paint eligible girls for Henry's choice. (The alternative proposal - to summon them to Calais for the king to view - was considered undignified.)

The task for an artist noted for his realism was delicate and dangerous: whether to flatter the subject or tell the truth. Thus Christina of Denmark, a candidate for Henry's hand, moves seductively towards the viewer, so delighting Henry, it is said, that he was "making musicians play on their instruments all day long". When sent to Flanders to bring back a picture of Anne of Cleves, Holbein allegedly erred towards flattery. He was lucky that the enraged king subsequently executed his chancellor, Cromwell, for the marriage rather than Holbein for failing to depict Anne as a "Flanders mare" (or so legend has it).
Here are the king's would-be wives as depicted by Holbein.

Anne of Cleves

Christina of Denmark

More here, here and here.

No comments: