Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Elizabeth I when a Princess

I was dithering about how to spend my free afternoon, unable to drum up sufficient enthusiasm for The Great Gatsby to get myself out of the house, when I came up with a plan B that should have been plan A in the first place. Because this exhibition In Fine Style, The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion at the Queen's Gallery is sumptuously, stunningly, absolutely fabulous. Or as Brian Sewell put it: 'Do not dismiss this as a treat for members of the Women's Institute. It is an exhibition of high seriousness.' (What a longstanding grudge he has against the WI. Perhaps they sold him mouldy jam?)
Anyway, forget Brian Sewell ... What I say is that this is possibly the best fashion exhibition that you will ever see in your life. 

It isn't simply the sumptuous silks and jewels, and cloth of silver tissued with gold (see Princess Elizabeth's sleeves and skirt above). It isn't seeing Holbein's drawing of Queen Anne Boleyn in her nightcap, looking quite frumpy and double-chinned and surely not sexy enough to cause a King to fall out with the Pope. (Much as I loved seeing this so soon after reading Bring Up the Bodies.)

Henrietta Maria 
What astonished me was all the fabulous detail about hooks and eyelets and ribbons and how to get into these clothes and do them up and how they would enforce the graceful deportment which was part of royal status. It wouldn't have been just whalebone and stiffened canvas in your stays but layers of pasteboard, dampened and shaped to form a shell around your body as it dried. And can you just imagine the skill of the laundress, starching and pressing and crimping those lace collars ... when three Venetian lace cravats for Charles II cost the equivalent of £16,000. A man's cloak might cost as much as a house, so Walter Raleigh was gallant indeed to throw his down in a puddle. 
Just look at Henrietta Maria's frothy pinked sleeves ... can't you just hear the swish of silk as she moves. 
 It was fascinating to see surviving examples of clothing, Queen Henrietta's embroidered slippers, exquisite lace collars, Charles I's doublet .. and when you turn around, he is wearing that very same doublet in a portrait. There was so much to absorb ( and I'd started out rather late, blast The Great Gatsby) that I'm definitely going back for a second visit. I was the last one out of the gallery and if I'd dawdled any longer, the Queen would have to shout down the stairs and invite me to tea. But for those who can't get to the exhibition, which is on until October, the zoom feature on the website is excellent.
Anne of Denmark


Magic Bean said...

That sounds so tempting. Thank you for putting me onto it.

Alex said...

Did you need to book or were you just able to walk in? I never know when I am going to be able to get down to London and so have been looking at this regretfully but deciding I probably wouldn't get in. If I could just roll up on the off chance that would be marvellous.

mary said...

I just walked in, Alex. I never book, it's not in my disorganised nature!
It's a fabulous exhibition. I wish I'd allowed myself more time, though, as there's so much detail in the paintings.

Toffeeapple said...

I have put the book on my wishlist, it looks so sumptuous. I do wish I was able to travel, I should love to see the exhibition.

mary said...

I didn't buy a catalogue but it would be a lovely thing to have, Toffeeapple.