Paris in the eighteenth century bore little resemblance to the romantic City of Light that attracts visitors from all over the world today. In 1749, the enlightenment author Voltaire turned a critical eye to his beloved city and wrote the essay “On The Beautification of Paris.” Voltaire observed, “We need public markets, fountains that actually give water, regular intersections, performance halls; we need to widen the narrow and filthy streets, uncover monuments that we cannot see and build new ones to be seen.” The crowded medieval neighbourhoods and shortage of clean drinking water threatened public health.
Readers of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, Les Miserables, and fans of the musical based on the novel will remember that narrow streets were also ideal places for revolutionaries to build barricades and oppose the government. In Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City, former architect and consultant Stephane Kirkland reveals how an Emperor and his appointed Prefect of the Seine created a new Paris that responded to the growth of industrialization and the birth of mass tourism.
The story of Baron Haussman’s radical changes to the Paris streetscape has been told in numerous other English language histories of the city such as Paris: The Biography of a City by Colin Jones and Seven Ages Of Paris by Alistair Horne. Paris Reborn stands out from all these previous works because Kirkland places Napoleon III (President 1848-1852, Emperor 1852-1870) rather than Hausmann at the centre of the book. Hausmann found creative ways to finance the building of grand avenues through the city and new buildings and public health initiatives but the the overarching idea for a new Paris was that of Napoleon III. The failings of the modern Paris, such as the destruction of historic neighborhoods and inadequacy of working class housing also reflected the Emperor’s limitations in the realm of urban design.
The displacement of 20% of the Parisian population during the Second Empire, the controversial destruction of medieval quarters and showcasing of a new Paris required the Emperor’s authority. Those who decried the loss of the old Paris blamed Haussman but the prefect was doing everything his power to create the city envisioned by Napoleon III.
The political career of Napoleon III is central to Paris Reborn but Kirkland fills his engaging account of the building of a new Paris with telling details about the various historical figures who lived in the Emperor’s capital or visited and left their impressions. Queen Victoria, visited Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie with Prince Albert and their two eldest children in the summer of 1855. While the Queen’s green parasol and enormous handbag embroidered with a poodle design could not compete with the fashions of the Empress Eugenie, her presence in Paris was an opportunity to showcase the new city and the legitimacy of the Second Empire.
European Royalty also descended on Paris for the 1867 Universal Exposition, marvelling at grand boulevards, high culture and technological innovations of Napoleon III’s Paris. The Viceroy of Egypt, Ismail Pasha, was so impressed by the performance of the opera bouffe by Jacques Offenbach, The Great Duchess of Gerolstein, that he attended the theatre every night during his stay in Paris. Victor Hugo acknowledged the need for Paris to introduce modern innovations but he decried the loss of so much of the medieval city. (Hugo’s famous 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame celebrated Paris’s Gothic architecture). American author Mark Twain sardonically noted that the grand boulevards were perfect for firing a cannonball straight through a revolutionary barricade and the medical discoveries of Louis Pasteur inspired the rebuilding of the historic Hotel Dieu.
Paris Reborn: Napoléon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City is a well researched and beautifully written account of the building of Napoleon III’s Paris. Kirkland places the Emperor and his vision at the centre of the narrative and includes the perspectives of a diverse array of historical figures who all had their own expectations of the historic city and the rebuilding that occured in their lifetimes. I recommend Paris Reborn to anyone interested in nineteenth century royalty and/or birth of the modern Paris.
Anne Boleyn is the most famous of King Henry VIII’s six wives because every era creates their own version of her that best suits the times. Changing attitudes toward women over the centuries also changed Anne’s reputation. In The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen, feminist scholar Susan Bordo reveals just how little we know of Anne’s actual relationship with Henry VIII then provides as fascinating cultural history of the famous queen over the centuries.
In the reign of Mary I, the stepdaughter who blamed Anne for the collapse of her parents’ marriage, the queen was a scheming temptress, leading Henry VIII away from the papacy with her feminine wiles. In the reign of Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I, Anne was reborn as the Protestant champion who brought much needed religious reform to England. This religious reputation persisted into the seventeenth century.
In the 19th century, much of the English public viewed Anne Boleyn as the innocent victim of Tudor tyranny similar to Lady Jane Grey. Jane Austen believed that Anne was indeed an innocent victim while Charles Dickens broke with prevailing wisdom to suggest that she might have been the author of her own demise. The historical novels of the 20th century introduced a new Anne Boleyn, the plucky, vivacious young woman who was destroyed by her ambition and her marriage to Henry VIII. In the 1969 film, Anne Of The Thousand Days, Anne openly challenges the King until the end of her life, suffering a marriage that ends disastrously because their passions only briefly overlap.
For the twenty-first century, historical novelist Philippa Gregory revived the old sixteenth century image of Anne the scheming temptress, stopping at nothing to achieve her ambitions in The Other Boleyn Girl. Meanwhile, actress Natalie Dormer portrayed an Anne who was intelligent as well as alluring in the Showtime series, The Tudors, an interpretation that has made Anne an inspiration to countless young women.
After Anne was executed in 1536, Henry VIII appears to have destroyed her letters to him as well as her portraits painted from life. As a result, much of what historians know about the relationship between Henry and Anne comes the dispatches of Eustace Chapuys, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s Ambassador to England. Chapuys was a strong supporter of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, his master’s Aunt, and inevitably described Anne in extremely negative terms. Despite the clear bias of Chapuys’ writings, Bordo reveals that they had a profound impact on future scholars and novelists alike, creating a received wisdom about Anne’s ambition, character and sexuality. Balanced and critical biographies, such as The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: ‘The Most Happy’ by Eric Ives are comparatively few.
Bordo’s work stands out from all other scholarship about Anne Boleyn because she takes the popular influence of historical fiction seriously. Historians rarely engage with fictional portrayals of historical figures beyond the most famous works such as William Shakespeare’s plays. Bordo’s research shows that so many aspects of Anne Boleyn’s life that the public believes it “knows” actually emerged from fictional accounts that became received wisdom.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Bordo’s work is her interviews with the various actresses who played Anne Boleyn over the decades including Geneviève Bujold from Anne Of The Thousand Days and Natalie Dormer from The Tudors. Both Bujold and Dormer did their own research about Anne Boleyn’s life and brought new insights to their portrayals of the famous queen. In contrast the cast of the 2008 film version of The Other Boleyn Girl appear to have been almost entirely ignorant of both the actual historical figures they portrayed and the nature of historical scholarship.
I highly recommend The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen to anyone interested in either the historical Anne Boleyn or the broader impact of popular culture and changing attitudes toward women on historical figures. I hope that additional books of this kind are written about other women in history with a significant modern pop culture presence including Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia and her daughters and Anne Boleyn’s own daughter Elizabeth I.
The great families of the Italian Renaissance are better known for the art and literature they commissioned and inspired than their own actions. The works of Michaelangelo, Da Vinci and Machiavelli have transcended the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries but the members of the Medici, Sforza, Goganza, Este, Aragona and Borgia families were people of their time, navigating the complex power dynamics of the Italian states. To modern eyes, Renaissance noblewomen appear comparatively insignificant, remaining in their palatial residences while their fathers and brothers faced each other on the battlefield. In The Deadly Sisterhood: A story of Women, Power and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance, Leonie Frieda brings eight of the most prominent noble ladies of the period to life, revealing just how important women and their connections were to the power and success of the Renaissance nobility.
Freida’s previous popular biography, Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France, examined the most famous example of an Italian Renaissance family increasing its prestige through an illustrious marriage. The eight central figures in The Deadly Sisterhood are either unknown to general audiences (Isabella d’Aragona and Beatrice d’Este) or have been reduced to villainous stereotypes in the popular imagination (Caterina Sforza and Lucrezia Borgia). Frieda challenges the legends that have emerged about Caterina and Lucrezia and presents all eight women as multifaceted individuals, raised to play influential roles in rival courts. Frieda looks at Italy’s most prominent Renaissance women together, presenting a story of rising and falling fortunes, lavish pageantry and last minute escapes that reads like a novel.
The late fourteenth century saw Italian noblewomen sharing a classical, humanist education with their brothers in addition to learning traditional feminine accomplishments such as dancing, music and needlework. As married women, many became patrons of artists and musicians in their right. Their lessons in rhetoric and reason were also useful because a noblewomen expected to reign as regent over her husband’s territories during his absences and persuade wavering supporters to remain loyal to the family. The understanding that noblewomen were capable of the same rigorous education provided for young men increased their status within their families and the expectations they faced as wives, mothers and regents.
At the centre of Frieda’s narrative are the controversial figures of Caterina Sforza and Lucretia Borgia. Caterina is most famous for a single episode in her life, refusing to hand over a key fortress to her late husband’s enemies who held her children as hostages. Her declaration that her children were expendable because she was pregnant and able to have more has been interpreted as a calculating bid for power at all costs. Frieda fills in the events that preceded Caterina’s capture of the fortress, revealing the danger to her entire family, including her children, if she did not find some means of persuading the rebels to retreat from Forli.
Frieda also places the entire Borgia family in context. Pope Alexander VI is famous as the corrupt figure whose excesses brought the Roman Catholic Church into disrepute. Frieda provides evidence that both the Pope and his daughter Lucretia shared a genuine piety that they separated from their worldly actions.
The Deadly Sisterhood: A story of Women, Power and Intrigue in the Italian Renaissance brings together eight of the most influential and powerful women of Renaissance Italy. Their marriages connected the most prominent families of the period and their actions helped their husbands and children to retain their places in the shifting political structure of the Italian states. The sack of Rome by troops commanded by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1527, ended this unique period in history, reducing the opportunities for Italian noblewomen to rule states or command armies but the subsequent regencies of the Medici queens of France demonstrates that the tradition of female authority as educated wives and mothers continued in prominent Italian families for centuries.
My guest post today on the Bloomberg Echoes: Dispatches from Economic History blog analyzes the what inheritance the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s firstborn child will receive upon ascending to the throne. I discuss the Duchy of Lancaster, the sovereign grant from the Crown Lands, Sandringham and Balmoral estates and what funds may be available for any subsequent children born to the royal couple. Click here to read the full post on the Bloomberg Echoes site.
During the wee hours of November 6, 2012, Guy Fawkes night, an intruder broke into the Tower of London. The suspect scaled the front gate and an inner entrance then stole a set of keys from an unlocked metal safe before escaping. The stolen keys provided access to the conference room and restaurants and control the drawbridges. Although the suspect was seen on the security cameras by the yeoman warders, they have strict instructions not to leave their posts and additional security arrived too late to catch the intruder. The Metropolitan London police are currently investigating the theft but an arrest has not yet been made.
A spokeswoman for Historic Royal Palaces, which administrates the Tower of London and other former royal residences such as Hampton Court Palace was quick to reassure the public that the security of the Crown Jewels had not been compromised by the intruder. She stated, “It would not have been possible to gain access to the Tower with any of these keys. All affected locks were immediately changed.”
The theft has prompted criticism of the security arrangements in the Tower of London and questions concerning the safety of the Crown Jewels in this historic fortress. Despite the recent security breach, the Crown Jewels are more secure than they have been at any other point in English history. Previous sets of English Crown Jewels have been lost, used as collateral for unpaid troops, pawned to purchase munitions, broken down, very nearly stolen, threatened by fire, and damaged when handled by careless tourists. The comparatively recent provenance of the current Crown Jewels demonstrates the difficulty previous monarchs have experienced protecting their coronation regalia.
King Edward the Confessor, the second last Saxon King before the Norman Conquest assembled the first known set of coronation regalia intended for subsequent monarchs. Following his death in 1066, the monks of Westminster Abbey, which had been commissioned by the late King, claimed that the jewels had been bequeathed to the Abbey. The original St. Edward’s crown attracted pilgrims who venerated the late King as a Saint, increasing the revenues for the monastery.
William I and his descendants who reigned from the Norman Conquest of 1066 brought their own coronation traditions and regalia from Normandy. William’s great-grandson, King John may have lost his Crown Jewels in 1216 when his baggage carts overturned in the Wash, the bay that separates Lincolnshire from East Anglia. Treasure hunters continue frequent the site to the present day, searching for the King’s lost crown.
John’s son, King Henry III venerated Edward the Confessor and was determined to be crowned wearing St. Edward’s Crown from Westminster Abbey. Henry III’s coronation revived Edward the Confessor’s tradition of regalia passed from one monarch to another but did not guarantee the security of the Crown Jewels. The Crown remained at Westminster Abbey in the care of the monks and was used as collateral by King Edward III when he found himself unable to pay his troops during the Hundred Years War.
The Crown Jewels worn by the medieval English monarchs were lost during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. King Charles I required funds for mercenaries and munitions to support the royalist cause. His consort, Queen Henrietta Maria alleviated his financial difficulties by pawning Crown Jewels abroad when she traveled to Holland in 1642 to deliver her daughter, Princess Mary, to her son-in-law, Prince William of Orange.(Their son would become King William III of England in 1688).
A furious English House of Commons called for the impeachment of the Queen in 1643 on eight different charges including that she, “Hath to provide monies and arms, pawned and sold the jewels of this realm.” Following the final defeat of Charles I and his execution in 1649, the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell ordered the remaining Crown Jewels broken down to symbolize the collapse of the monarchy and augment his own state treasury.
In 1660, Charles I’s and Henrietta Maria’s eldest son, was invited to return to the British Isles as King Charles II. New regalia had to be created for his coronation in 1661 and the current St. Edward’s Crown dates from this time. To ensure the security of the new Crown Jewels, Charles II ordered that they be stored in the Tower of London, a traditional stronghold for royal valuables.
The more secure location did not prevent further threats to the security of the Crown Jewels. The keepers of the jewels relied on the income they received from charging visitors to view the coronation regalia and security standards for these early tourists were not as strict as they are today. In 1671, Irish anti-royalist “Colonel” Thomas Blood knocked the assistant jewel keeper, Talbot Edwards, unconscious with a mallet and seized Charles II’s crown, smashing the arches to hide it under his cloak. The theft was thwarted when Edwards’ son, Whythe arrived home for his sister’s betrothal at that very moment and chased Blood across the tower courtyard, finally apprehending him outside the gates and recovering the Crown Jewels.
Despite this unfortunate episode, visitors to the Tower of London were permitted to handle the Crown Jewels, for an additional fee to the warder, until 1815, when a woman later judged to be “insane” pulled apart the arches of St. Edward’s crown. In 1841, a fire broke out in a building adjacent to the jewel house, prompting a bucket brigade of yeoman warders to pass the regalia to safety. The Times of London reported ‘A most extraordinary scene presented itself, the warders carrying crowns, sceptres and other valuables of royalty, between groups of soldiers, police, firemen…to the Governor’s residence.’ The jewels were saved and restored to the Tower of London.
The recent theft of keys from the Tower of London has attracted widespread media attention because threats to the security of the Crown Jewels are comparatively rare in the twenty-first century. Nevertheless the incident is in keeping with the long history threats to the security Crown Jewels of England.
For my Canadian readers, I will be discussed the history of the Tower of London tomorrow, (November 15, 2012) at 11:15am on the CTV 24 hour news channel.
King Louis XIV of France is remembered as Europe’s longest reining monarch, an absolutist ruler who exerted his will over the nobility and presided over a glittering court at Versailles. The King’s contributions to the history of ballet are less well known. Like his father, Louis XIII, Louis XIV performed in court ballets, ultimately dancing eighty roles in forty different court productions. The King took this activity seriously, sometimes rehearsing six hours a day before a performance. The orderly precision of the dance appealed to Louis, who spent his part of his childhood amidst the Fronde rebellion of the nobility. Ballet performances emphasized the strict hierarchy of the court, with the Sun King presiding over noble fellow performers organized according to their rank.
When the King stopped performing in middle age, he continued to support the development of the ballet as an art form, founding a theatre school in 1669 that trained both male and female dancers for the stage. While noblewomen had participated in court performances throughout the seventeenth century, Louis XIV’s theatre school gave ordinary women a chance at social advancement as ballerinas. In Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, journalist and dance critic Deirdre Kelly chronicles the fascinating double life of the ballerina, personifying perfection on the stage and facing poverty, exploitation and unsafe working conditions behind the curtain.
In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most of the young women who joined the French ballet came from the opposite end of the social spectrum than the monarch. Many were the children of single mothers in Paris’s poorest neighbourhoods, who viewed the ballet as a chance at social advancement that would lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
Since the ballet itself paid most dancers too little to cover their lavish costumes and other expenses, most acquired wealthy patrons and the most successful became mistresses of royalty. Philippe d’Orleans, regent to Louis XIV’s great-grandson and successor, Louis XV had an affair with Emilie Dupré, a ballerina with peasant origins. Sophie Hagman, a dancer in the Royal Swedish ballet, began her life as the daughter of a gamekeeper but eventually became the official mistress of Prince Frederick Adolf of Sweden. Kelly provides countless other examples of women from humble origins who used the role of the ballerina-courtesan to rise to the pinnacle of high society.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Kelly`s work is how the life of a ballerina was often opposed to the prevailing trends regarding women`s place in society. In the late eighteenth century, when women were supposed to be subordinate to their husbands and fathers, dancers and singers employed by the Paris Opera were legally emancipated from their authority of the parents and spouses.
In the nineteenth century, when women were idealized as paragons of domestic virtue, ballerinas were subject to the advances of men who paid for access to the backstage areas of theatres. When women gained rights in most workplaces during the 1960s and 1970s, ballerinas working for the autocratic artistic director George Balanchine were discouraged from marrying, having children or maintaining a healthy weight. Only in the late 20th and 21st centuries did ballerinas negotiate better working conditions and gained public respect as athletes as well as artists.
Kelly’s account of the 18th and 19th century French ballet and the modern struggle for better working conditions within the ballet is well researched and engagingly written. The chapter concerning the Imperial Russian ballet, however, contains some surprising historical inaccuracies and omissions. Kelly implies that Mathilde Kschessinska, one of the last royal ballerina-courtesans was the lifelong mistress of Emperor Nicholas II when there is no evidence of physical relationship after the ruler’s ascension to the throne and marriage to Alexandra of Hesse in 1894. Kelly also reprints a few anecdotes from Kschessinska’s problematic memoirs, Dancing in St. Petersburg that have been proven false by historians, most notably Coryne Hall in Imperial Dancer.
Since Kelly presents the ballerina courtesan as a consummate survivor, I was surprised by the absence of Antonina Nesterovskaya from her narrative. This former Imperial Russian ballet dancer successfully negotiated the release of her husband Prince Gabriel Konstantinovich from imprisonment during the Russian Revolution by arguing that only a Prince who had accepted socialism would have legally married a humble ballerina. Nesterovskaya’s brave actions and the couple’s escape to Paris is told in Gabriel’s memoirs, Memories in The Marble Palace.
Ballerina: Sex, Scandal, and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection is an engaging history of the life of the ballerina from King Louis XIV’s court to the modern workplace negotiation table. The life of ballerina was often very different from the perfect grace displayed on the stage or the expectations faced by the women in audience. Kelly presents the ballerina as a survivor, finding opportunities for social advancement and artistic perfection within the most difficult conditions.
Diana, Princess of Wales, mother of Prince William and Prince Harry died in Paris car accident fifteen years ago today, on August 21, 1997. Over the next few weeks, I will look at Diana’s place in the history of the monarchy and her enduring influence over the current monarchy.
Queen of Fashion For most of English history, royal women set the fashions for ladies of the nobility. A visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London reveals rows of paintings of noblewomen dressed and coiffed to resemble their queen. During King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, modest gable hoods that completely covered the hair were in vogue. Catherine introduced Spanish black work embroidery to the English court, a style that Henry VIII preferred for his shirts to end of his life.
Fashions changed when Anne Boleyn became a possible queen in waiting. Anne introduced numerous fashion innovations to the English court including more revealing French hoods that showed the hair and long sleeves that covered the hands. A court lady’s choice of hood might be a political statement in the late 1520s and 1530s as Henry VIII sought to annul his marriage to Catherine and marry Anne. The King’s third wife, Jane Seymour notably returned to the modest gable hood favoured by Catherine. One of the reasons for Anne of Cleves’s failure to successful perform the role of queen consort was the English court perception that her high waisted German style dresses were unflattering and she could not act as a leader of fashionable society.
Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I were expected to rule England in the manner of their male predecessors and set the fashion at court as their mothers had done. When Elizabeth I adopted farthingale skirts, wide neck ruffs and bejewelled wigs in the late sixteenth century, her ladies did the same. The distribution of printed images of the queen during the same period meant that women outside the court also knew how their monarch dressed and wanted to look just as fashionable. Elizabeth I insisted on the enforcement of sumptuary laws, fearing the breakdown of the social order and her subjects incurring large debts if women of all social backgrounds aspired to dress like the queen.
Stuart queens continued to play the role of fashion trendsetters during the seventeenth century. The ladies portrayed in the court portraiture of of Anthony Van Dyck in the 1620s and 1630s all resemble Charles I’s consort, Queen Henrietta Maria with tight curled hair, wide lace collars and full sleeves. When Charles II married Catherine of Braganza in 1661, one of his first gifts to his bride was a dress in the flowing, sensual style favoured by his mistress, Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland to replace the farthingale skirts still fashionable in new queen’s native Portugal.
Royal wives and mistresses began to lose their exclusive influence over elite fashion trends after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. To shape fashion, it was necessary to be seen by the public, and the late Stuart and early Hanoverian royal families lived in increasing seclusion. William III and Mary II lived a quiet life at Kensington Palace because of the King’s asthma and discomfort in English society. Queen Anne’s health was shattered by her seventeen pregnancies. The first two King Georges could not speak English and the third was nicknamed “Famer George” for his love of country living at Kew Palace.
By the reign of George III, no lady of fashion claimed to be inspired by Queen Charlotte, the King’s homely and perpetually pregnant consort. The seclusion of the royal court and emergence of rival noble factions dictated by party politics brought new trendsetters to prominence. One of Diana’s Spencer predecessors, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire led fashionable English society in the late 1700s, inspiring the dresses worn by wealthy women.
The Duchess was a friend of Queen Marie Antoinette of France and helped popularize the white muslin dresses and floral embellishments favoured by the French queen during her “Petit Trianon” phase in the 1780s. As sumptuary laws had been repealed by the eighteenth century, anyone with the necessary funds attempted to imitate the Duchess’s style.
The Regency and Victorian periods occasionally revived the role of leader of fashion that had been the privilege of Tudor and Stuart royal women. Queen Victoria had a lasting impact on bridal fashions when she chose a simple white wedding dress and floral bouquet for her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Cobourg. When Victoria retreated into mourning after Albert’s death in 1861, her daughter Princess Louise and daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra became known as the most stylish members of the royal family, setting trends in late nineteenth century ladies fashion.
By the twentieth century, however, royal women’s fashion had become synonymous with tradition instead of trend setting. Until the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer, the clothes worn by royal women often seemed to hearken back to styles no longer worn by many of their subjects. Since George V disapproved of post World War One changes to ladies’ fashion, Queen Mary continued to wear floor length dresses in the hourglass style, as she had done during Queen Victoria’s reign.The conservative fashions favoured by the future George VI’s wife, Elizabeth were the antithesis of the trendy 1930s backless dresses worn by Wallis Simpson. In the 1960s, the Scotch tartans worn by Queen Elizabeth II and her children at Balmoral seemed very traditional within a fashion climate dominated by miniskirts and bell bottoms.
When Diana Spencer became Princess of Wales, in 1981, a royal woman once again set fashion as had been the case during the Tudor and early Stuart periods. In contrast to Elizabeth I or Henrietta Maria, Diana’s fashion choices were shown worldwide through photography and film.
At the annual State Opening of Parliament in the United Kingdom, the press eagerly photographed the princess and commented on her attire. Diana popularized the “princess style” wedding gowns of the 1980s with full skirts and sleeves. Her diverse fashions on official occasions ranged from the wide shouldered “Dynasty Di” ensembles of the 1980s, to elegant off shoulder evening gowns, to the form fitting sheath dresses of the 1990s. Diana’s admirers also imitated her casual wear, which included jeans with blazers and sleeveless tops with khakis.
The emergence of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge as a twenty-first century fashion trendsetter reveals that Diana’s style had a lasting influence on the perceived role of royal women. As in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the public once again looks to princesses to influence the world of fashion.
The eager anticipation of Catherine’s choice of wedding dress in 2011 and and the sale of inexpensive versions of her outfits for women who wish to emulate her style reflects Diana’s enduring influence over popular expectations of royal women. Since Diana Spencer joined the royal family in 1981, royal women have once again assumed the Tudor-Stuart role of leader of fashionable society.
Next Week: Diana and the Royal Walkabout
Planning a visit to the United Kingdom for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee and/or the London Olympics this summer? Be sure to visit some of the fascinating exhibitions in honour of the Queen’s sixty years on the throne. Elizabeth II has been described as “The Curator Monarch” for opening the state rooms at Buckingham Palace to the public and authorizing numerous exhibitions of treasures from the Royal Collection. Visiting a Jubilee exhibition is a great way to celebrate the Queen’s reign and see some of the UK’s finest historic and cultural sites.
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London curated the exhibition Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration, which was on display there from February-April 2012. This collection of photographs of the Queen by royal photographer Cecil Beaton is currently on tour around the United Kingdom, on display in Dundee at the McManus Gallery from 30 September 2011 – 8 January 2012, at Leeds City Museum from 8 May – 24 June 2012, at the Norwich Castle Museum from 7 July – 30 September 2012, and at the Laing Art Gallery in Tyne & Wear from 13 October – 2 December 2012.
The exhibition includes some of the most iconic photographs from the Queen’s life including her earliest official portraits as a Princess, coronation photographs, family pictures with her children and the 1968 photo shoot for the National Portrait Gallery, which is also featuring a 2012 exhibition of images of the Queen.
The National Portrait Gallery’s Diamond Jubilee Exhibition, The Queen: Art and Image includes a diverse array of portraits of the Queen that encompass changing attitudes toward the monarchy during her sixty year reign. Coronation portraiture from 1953 focused on her regal splendour while studio photographers emphasized her youth and elegance. The 1960s and 1970s portraits are more informal, showing the Queen with her children and during relaxed moments on her travels.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the press became increasingly intrusive and sought images that implicitly critiqued the monarchy. The 21st century prompted a broad range of images that sought to capture the complexity of the Queen’s long reign. Royal history enthusiasts will also want to visit the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection, which contains images of royalty from Tudor times to the present.
The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is holding an exhibition complementing the Thames river pageant that will mark the culmination of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee festivities this June. Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames includes objects from the Royal Collection to present the long history of royal pageantry on the Thames. Greenwich park also contains numerous other famous places from royal history including the Queen’s House, the site of the Tudor Palace of Placentia and the Ranger’s House.
Exhibitions of treasures from the royal collection are also on display in palaces throughout the United Kingdom. One of the most notable exhibitions is taking place at the Queen’s Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, which is presenting more than one hundred of the finest works of art from the royal collection, in the Queen’s Gallery. Treasures from the Queen’s Palaces includes paintings by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Nash, drawings by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Holbein, and Imperial Easter Eggs by Fabergé. Holyroodhouse itself has a long association with the royal family having been Mary, Queen of Scots’ principal residence as an adult monarch.
The palaces, museums and art galleries of the United Kingdom are celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee with a fascinating array of special exhibitions highlighting some of the most significant pieces from the Royal Collection. The accessibility of the works accumulated by centuries of monarchs demonstrates the Queen’s achievement as a “curator monarch,” bringing the Royal Collection to a wide public audience.
This week’s Economist contains an extended feature article about Sheikha Mayassa, describing her as Qatar’s Culture Queen. The 29 year old Duke University graduate is Head of the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), an agency independent of the Culture Ministry of Qatar. The autonomy of the QMA allows Sheikha Mayassa the freedom to realize her artistic vision on a grand scale. Sheikha Mayassa explained in her first major interview, “The QMA is very much my father’s baby. He wanted to create something…to connect with the community, to create a culture dialogue within society. We report directly to him. The nice thing about my father is that he doesn’t interfere in the day-to-day business. We present the strategy, and once he agrees with the strategy and the vision we are given the authority and freedom to go ahead and execute them in the way we think fit.” The Economist notes that the QMA budget is not disclosed to the public.
In contrast to the Emirs of the United Arab Emirates, who have created local franchises of the Louvre and Guggenheim Museums in Abu Dhabi, Sheikha Mayassa is overseeing the development of a unique regional museum. Exhibitions at the Museum of Islamic Art showcase the diversity of Middle Eastern art and culture. The museum’s opening exhibition, “Beyond Boundaries-Islamic Art Across Cultures” incorporated ceramics, metal work, manuscripts, jewellery and textiles from numerous regions including Syria, India, Spain and Uzbekistan. The Economist article discusses a recent exhibition of the ancient cultural connections between China and the Gulf states. Sheikha Mayassa and her family are also collectors of European art. The acquisition of Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players” for $250 million set a new record in the international fine art markets.
The scale of Sheikha Mayassa’s art collection is evocative of royal cultural patronage from 1500 to 1800. In the sixteenth century, Renaissance rulers sought to emphasize the wealth and sophistication of their court through patronage of the leading artists, musicians, scientists and philosophers. King Henry VIII of England famously sponsored the painter Hans Holbein and the writer Thomas More and composed his own music for the lute. His contemporary, King Francois I of France invited Leonardo da Vinci to relocate to the Loire Valley as a kind of artist in residence at the French court with the freedom to create works according to his interests. (da Vinci`s time in France is fictionalized in the film, Ever After: A Cinderella Story).
In the mid seventeenth century, King Charles I of England and his wife Henrietta Maria were the most active patrons of art and architecture. Since continental European rulers were devoting their expenditure to fighting the Thirty Years War, numerous artists and architects traveled to England during the 1620s and 1630s. Charles I was a patron of Antony Van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens while Henrietta Maria commissioned Orazio Gentileschi and his daughter Artemesia to paint decorative ceilings in the Queen’s House at Greenwich. In the late eighteenth century, Catherine II “the Great” of Russia was the most prolific royal art patron, buying whole collections for the Hermitage on the advice of her learned correspondents including Denis Diderot, the editor of the Encyclopedia.
In contrast to Henry VIII, Francois I, Charles I, Henrietta Maria and Catherine the Great, who all collected art for a limited court audience, Sheikha Mayassa is interested in attracting a broad local and international public to the Museum of Islamic Art. Her interest in the accessibility of her collection is similar to the goals of modern constitutional monarchs who endeavour to share the works acquired by their predecessors with the general public. Queen Elizabeth II has been described as “the curator monarch” in Robert Hardman’s recent study of her life and reign, Our Queen because she has opened the state rooms of Buckingham Palace to the public and overseen numerous traveling exhibitions of works from the British Royal Collection.
Sheikha Mayassa’s art patronage combines the grand scale of Early Modern royal art acquisition with the interest in accessibility displayed by present day constitutional monarchs. The Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar reflects her passion for art collection and showcasing the history and culture of the Gulf States.