This cartoon was the precursor to the mural at Whitehall Palace, depicting the beginnings of the Tudor dynasty. That mural included Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VII) and Jane Seymour (third wife of Henry VIII and mother of his son, Edward VI). Practically every subsequent image of Henry VIII was taken from the Holbein mural. The major difference between the mural and the cartoon is that the cartoon has Henry at three quarter face, as per the European convention for monarchs, while the mural has Henry face-on to the viewer, a look which was deemed a little vulgar by the courts of Europe.
What I find fascinating about this image is that it is a magnificent piece of propaganda for a man who was past his glory days physically, who had become a tyrant, a spendthrift, and quite frankly a liability. In fact, it was about as untrue as the famously "sexed-up" portrait of Anne of Cleaves!
So, let's start with the codpiece! This is supposed to represent Henry VIII's virility, his masculinity and the security of the Tudor succession. The reality: he had two daughters, but who had been declared illegitimate, and no son. He was also 45 years old, and no longer the "the most handsome prince in Christendom."
His amazing, bull-like stance and his perfect calves were both intimidating and sexually potent. Yet, Henry was by this time a fat and fast on the way to becoming a semi-invalid. His legs were not in the rather beautiful condition depicted in the cartoon, but rather swollen from thrombosis and oozing pus.
The jewels on his costume are both large and manifold: a fantastic representation of the wealth of England and its King. But the fact was that Henry was a spendthrift who plundered the fortune his father, Henry VII had spend his reign amassing.
And now we come to the crux of the matter. This painting goes a long way to convince us that Henry VIII was a more potent, successful, powerful and virile man than his father, the miserly and unpopular Henry VII.
But it was Henry VII who had become the richest prince in Christendom, who has ended civil war rather than started it (as Henry did with the Reformation), who has systematically lifted England up from its broken state and made it powerful. And it was Henry VII who had made stunning dynastic marriages for his children (Arthur/Henry to Catherine of Aragon, Margaret to James IV of Scotland, Mary to Louis XII of France).
For all the sparkle, the glamour and the force of Henry VIII's image in this cartoon, he will forever be a pale shadow of a King in comparison to the achievements of the understated man behind him: his father, Henry VII.
Today’s Friday Favourite is the Salvator Mundi painting recently attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. I saw the painting at the 2011-12 exhibition Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan at the National Gallery in London.
The painting has had an interesting history: known to have been in the collection of King Charles I of England, it was auctioned of by the son of the Duke of Buckingham in 1763. It then went off radar until 1900, when Birtish Collector Sir Frederick Cook purchased it. Cook found that it has been damaged from earlier restoration work.
It was sold by Cook’s descendants for £45 at an auction, where it again went off radar. It was rediscovered by art restorer Dianne Modestini and dealer and art historian Robert Simon in New York. A consortium of US art dealers purchased the painting in 2005, and it was subsequently authenticated as a da Vinci work.
How amazing that a piece that last sold for £45 is now worth around £125 million!
The painting has all the hallmarks of the Master’s work: the enigmatic subject, the intricate detail, the otherworldly countenance, and the beautiful rendering of the fabric. But for me, the most amazing feature of this painting is the way in which da Vinci has executed the painting of the crystal orb. It is truly breath-taking,: clearly the work of a master painter.
During a holiday to Seville, I discovered the work of a man who was to become one of my favourite artists: M. C. Escher. I've always loved art inspired by mathematics, and Escher seem to fuse the two perfectly. Below are a few of my favourite pieces.
The first Friday Favourite is the painting Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali.It is most probably the most iconic image of the Crucifixion created in the 20th Century. For me, the perspective and the juxtaposition of the darkness surrounding the figure of the Christ and the blue sky by the fishing boat really catch my attention.
Apparently, to get an idea of what the human body would look like at this angle, Dali suspended Hollywood stuntman Russell Saunders from an overhead crane!
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