Last week, not less than three of my assorted interests combined to give me a real treat.
The Queen’s Gallery in London is holding an exhibition called “In Fine Style“. The exhibition uses portraits of the Tudor and Stuart period to show the changes in fashion during the period, and there was a lot of embroidery and passementerie used, so the painters had a lot of scope. I’m interested in painting, too, so I’m always intrigued to see how a painter depicts texture, structure, and colour. Furthermore, major exhibitions these days often have additional events – not just a Private View on opening, but outreach events for schoolchildren, evening openings, tie-in events with other artists. An additional event caught my eye – an evening opening, followed by a recital of the music of John Dowland (contemporaneous with the paintings) given by the lutanist Jakob Lindberg.
Now, I’m an early music girl, so what with the chance to be nose-to-nose with some famous paintings and then to listen to music of the period surrounded by paintings of the composer’s assorted patrons…
I had a great time. There were some very familiar paintings – Elizabeth I as a princess, in a rose-red gown, with sleeves dripping gold embroidery, and a couple of pearl pendants you could swear you could pick off the canvas, van Dyck’s triple portrait of Charles I, Frances Stuart looking seductive in satin, with an entirely superfluous billow of fabric behind her. Familiar in reproduction, and fabulous. But, my goodness, the painting is even better when you can see it for real! Fur, gold thread, damask figured weaves, embroidery, gleaming pearls, glinting gems.
Then there were some unfamiliar ones. Edward IV, who I’ve read described as a blond beautiful giant, six foot tall, charismatic and something of a party animal. The portrait showed me a thin-faced, introspective man with dark red hair and a marked resemblance to the famous portrait of his brother Richard III – I suppose sitting for a portrait encourages introspection. Frances Stuart, in a buff coat like a man’s, her hair dressed to look like a man’s wig. Various unnamed men and women in the fashions of their time, in masque dress, fashionable clothes, clothes to make a statement. One lady wore a beautiful embroidered gown with a silvery gauze overdress set with crystals – imagine how many tiny brushstrokes you would need to bring a single crystal to life!
There were also some real examples – an embroidered jacket (not the Margaret Laton jacket, but very like it), a nightcap, and some gloves. And a Casket. And what a casket. It had a whole grove of needlelace-leaved trees planted on its’ lid, not to mention a horde of people frolicking around the side. And if I’ve learnt anything it’s that my detached buttonhole stitch is nothing like fine enough or tight enough. Sigh.
And the evening wasn’t over yet – after gloating over all that fabulous painted and embroidered finery, the recital! Jakob Lindberg is a great lutanist and a charming and knowledgeable man, so his introductions illuminated the music, and entertained the audience as much as his playing did. Though I did find myself wondering whether the composer had so attentive an audience when he played in the courts of England and Denmark!