Monday, May 14, 2012

A Fascination

I have a confession to make. I love portraits of long dead people. No seriously. When I travel, I can most likely be found in an art museum, looking at their collection of historic portraits. I love looking at the clothing, the faces, everything. I especially love looking when the museum puts a label on the portrait and tells me something about them. Sadly, a lot of them don't do me this favor, but I still enjoy looking nonetheless. I like to think about who the person was, what kind of life they lived, etc. It always provides an absorbing time for me.

Since I've recently developed a fascination for the Stuart time period, I have been spending a lot of time looking at portraits from the era. It started with my aborted idea to write a book about Frances Stuart or as she was known La Belle Stuart. But then I found out that it had been done recently (The Painted Lady -- it was a good book, by the way). It's a very interesting period--some would say that the Stuart era was downright debauched, but that's another conversation for another time.

Two of the celebrated artists from the Stuart age were Anthony Van Dyck and Peter Lely. Both were court painters and as a result, they painted the cream of England's aristocracy. I thought I would share a few:

This lovely lady was Elizabeth, the Countess of Kildare by Peter Lely. My quick Wikipedia search found no entries for her, although she was listed as one of Charles II's mistresses. No surprise there; that man slept with anything that moved. OK, maybe not anything, but anything female most assuredly.

And this of course is Charles I and his queen Henrietta Maria along with the future Charles II (bottom left) and Princess Mary (I'm assuming) by Van Dyck. It never fails to amaze me how these artists were able to capture clothing the way they did. You almost want to reach out and touch the fabric and expect to feel silk or satin.

This is another lovely portrait by Anthony Van Dyck featuring five of Charles I's children. I'm not entirely sure of all of them, but I'm going to take a stab at it and say the future Charles II along with the future James VII, Princess Mary, Princess Elizabeth, and the baby should be Princess Anne (or possibly Prince Henry). I love the dog, by the way. I'm sure my husband would want to acquire him!

And this is Lucy Brydges by Peter Lely. Once again, I couldn't find much about her besides she was the daughter of the Baron of Chandos. If you haven't noticed, Lely liked to accentuate the eyes and lips to the point that he always made his subjects appear sensual. I read recently that pretty much all of his sitters looked like Barbara Castlemaine, who of course was Charles II's long time mistress. I don't find her that attractive, so I guess it's true about her being good in bed.

That's all for now. Tune in tomorrow or possibly later this week, I might post some more portraits, particularly Lely's series the "Windsor Beauties" and then Godfrey Kneller's the "Hampton Court Beauties." Until then, what are your fascinations--odd or otherwise?

1 comment:

  1. I love old portraits and photographs--for one, they're such awesome historical clothing resources :) But there's also something about seeing someone's expressions and personality come out in a 200 year old painting!