We began the class by looking at the frontispiece to Hobbes’s ‘The Leviathan”. We looked closely at the King’s body, and we compared the images along the left-hand side with those on the right. Than we looked at Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII. As Derek Wilson argues in the piece linked to here, it can be seen as a work of blatant propaganda. We compared that with a portrait of François I painted by Clouet in 1540.
A striking difference between French and British royalty is that the latter permits women to reign as sovereigns in their own right. This poses particular problems for the portraitist, who must represent someone who was considered by her nature as inferior as a supreme being. We first looked at a portrait of Mary Tudor by Athonis Mor. Then we looked at a portrait of her sister Elizabeth, painted while her half-brother, Edward, was on the throne. After both Edward and Mary died without leaving children, Elizabeth came to the throne. We looked at her coronation portrait. We then saw several portraits of Elizabeth – some of which you will find here – paying particular attention to the Armada portrait, and comparing it to the illustration to the Leviathan.
After leaving Elizabeth, we leaped over the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution to the time of the Hanovers. We looked at this portrait of George III, with it’s echoes of Holbein’s Henry. We then moved on to the 19th Century when, once again, a woman occupied the throne. Victoria is often seen as bringing the image of the monarchy into its modern form as constitutional and as a part of the newly emerging celebrity culture. Look at this portrait by Winterhalter. We compared this with James Stack Lauder’s photo of the widowed Queen in 1887.
For 20th Century portraits, we looked at a portrait of Prince George, painted in 1929, when he was not expected to become King. We also saw a photo of George as King, with Queen Mary, taken in 1945 while he was visiting an RAF base in Ireland. Finally we looked at some portraits of Elizabeth II – a photograph by Dorothy Wilding taken in the year of her coronation, a photo by Annie Lebovitz, taken in 2007. (Despite the photographer’s attempt to invoke mortality, I think this is kitsch). We rounded it off with Lucien Freud’s portrait, which you all hated.