any, like me, will need to have groaned on the announcement of an exhibition of portraits chosen for the sake, not of nice high quality or perception, however for the scrupulous depiction of the bonnet and the boot, the kirtle and the codpiece, the frill, furbelow and farthingale — but that is what the Royal Assortment provides all through the summer time on this exhibition. The exhibition, nonetheless, works an surprising magic: the customer just isn’t confronted solely by the upstart Tudors and imported Stuarts richly clad, depicted in stiff and stilted poses by journeyman painters inhibited by dutiful obeisance, however by Italians, Spaniards and Germans and a big handful of masterpieces. Certainly, within the 4 portraits by Lotto, Bronzino, Joos van Cleve and Rembrandt on the left wall of the ultimate room, we now have a showstopper of a cling.
The Lotto is of Andrea Odoni, an unsmiling, middle-aged Venetian bruiser with a style for classical antiquities. He wears a fur-lined gown of black silk (black then among the many most costly of dyes) that lends weight and quantity to his vigorous casual gesture, reaching out to us with a statuette of Artemis, his eyes difficult us with contempt. Solely the gown connects this formidable masterpiece with the court docket of the Tudors — we discover it within the close to modern portraits painted in London by Holbein, salaried painter to Henry VIII. Maybe essentially the most ostentatiously ingenious portrait of the Italian Renaissance, it was painted in 1527. It hangs within the speedy firm of Bronzino’s Woman in Inexperienced of c1530 and of Joos van Cleve’s Eleanora of Austria of the early 1530s, each extra formal and traditional, although the distinction between them is revealing. Inexperienced is the predominant color in each — of the background of the van Cleve, and within the Bronzino, of the costume; each are half-lengths terminating in and supported by clasped fingers; however there the similarities finish, for within the Netherlandish portrait the flowery costume all however overwhelms the face and, within the Florentine, the top dominates a dressing up virtually as ornate however subtly lowered in its demand for the spectator’s eye. Bronzino tells us one thing of the sitter’s nature; van Cleve provides us the standard energy portrait of a queen.
In these three modern work the essences of portraiture on the time in Venice, Florence and Flanders are neatly demonstrated. With them, from a century later, hangs Rembrandt’s portrait of Agatha Bas, painted in 1641, included as a result of the lace about her shoulders is of a high quality match for a king — as is demonstrated by Van Dyck’s triple portrait of Charles I, of 1635-36 (painted to tell Bernini, who, from it, was to sculpt a marble bust). In sensibility and realism Rembrandt developed (unknowingly) from Lotto and Bronzino, the mannerism of van Cleve and his ilk having proved a lifeless finish — the distinction between Eleanora and Agatha over a century is sort of unbridgeable.
Such observations are, nonetheless, not the aim of this exhibition; we’re in The Queen’s Gallery to make what use we will of costume as a way of figuring out the date, place, nationality and names of sitters, and, conversely, to make use of recognized and dated portraits as a way of figuring out costume and its accoutrements. The 2 disciplines interweave to supply, alas, an imprecise science, for superb garments had been an extravagance and to not be thrown away, and enlarged, lowered and even dismantled and completely reconstructed, may nonetheless be being worn lengthy after the preliminary style for them died. In Seventeenth-century Amsterdam, the superb retro garments of retailers’ wives usually ended on the backs of prostitutes. This level is maybe made by Jan Steen’s Lady at Her Rest room in so grand a room that she could also be a “chambered whore” (a girl saved by a rich man however accepting different purchasers too). Godfried Schalcken’s Sport of Woman, Come into the Backyard is a much less guarded remedy of merrymaking in a whorehouse. Each are included within the exhibition.
It was certainly ever thus that garments, if they didn’t make the person (or girl, or youngster), on the very least clearly instructed us of his standing and, within the court docket circles of the Tudors and earlier Stuarts, weren’t solely ruinously expensive, however time-consuming to don and doff, stiff, heavy, scorching, by no means snug, by no means actually clear and doubtless by no means freed from accrued physique odours and the perfumes to masks them. Patterned with ornamental stitching, heavy with embroidery, jewels and trumpery, overgarments lay layer upon layer over corsets, shifts, bodices and different undergarments, some exaggerating the physique’s pure form, others camouflaging it. For many years girls will need to have discovered all of it however unattainable to sit down, and males and boys, with voluminous breeches to boost the buttocks — within the early Seventeenth century padded with “a lot bumbastings and quiltings … to appear fuller thighed than we’re” — made males look ridiculous, and Lord is aware of how, with out underpants (they tucked their shirt tails between their legs) they saved at bay the fungal growths inevitable within the crotch in such unremittingly humid circumstances. It’s no marvel that when Charles II was restored in 1660 the court docket turned much less formal and it was potential to be seen within the unfastened consolation of deliberate undress.
It’d nicely be argued that in European portraiture within the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries the correct illustration of costume was, by and huge, extra necessary than true likeness, for the face and fingers occupy a really small proportion of a life-size full-length and may lose their id had been it not documented by the costume. Margaret of Austria may very well be one among a dozen pudding-faced girls with the heavy Hapsburg jaw, however in her portrait by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz her costume and jewels go away us in little question as to her id. A diplomatic reward to James I in 1604 to mark a brand new treaty between Spain and England, in her portrait she wears the nice pearl that had been the engagement reward of Philip II to Mary Tudor, and her costume is repeatedly embroidered with the coats-of-arms of Austria and Castile-Léon. Once more I ask how she may ever have been comfortably (and decently) seated in so conical a skirt. This portrait is definitely proof of the collaboration of a specialist painter of materials and clothes within the studio of the commissioned painter, for the detailed description of this costume, even right down to the warp and weft of the silk, is a triumph of tedious diligence for which few master-painters of the day had the required endurance.
There’s a lot to be realized within the exhibition, if solely that dangerous work usually make necessary paperwork, that a fantastic painter can so enjoyment of a costume that he diverts our consideration from the plainness of the sitter (as did Van Dyck with Henrietta Maria), and that there are often surprises within the uncared for areas of portraits. Look previous Daniel Mytens’ aggrandised midget Charles I of 1628 on the glimpse of panorama over a balustrade, the stone seeming virtually clear because the low and indirect rays of daylight contact it — it and the wooded distance past precurse Constable in 1828.
Look too on the panorama background of A Man in Purple, half fantasy, half remark, the timber on the fitting akin to an 18th-century German setting for a determine, but that is an earlyish Sixteenth-century portrait. Life-size, this startling younger man is certainly in crimson from prime to toe, his costume designed to magnify the breadth of shoulder and athletic stance. As a portrait it’s astonishing in its response to presence, and if the youth ever appeared thus within the court docket of Henry VIII (accompanying Anne of Cleves in 1539, maybe) all heads will need to have turned to look at him somewhat than the Flanders Mare — however we all know neither who he’s nor who painted him. The portrait is attributed to a “German or Netherlandish artist working in England … c1530-1550” however may so flamboyant a portray, so achieved, so totally different from Holbein, have been painted in London with out some document of its painter? Aren’t it and the costume extra German than Netherlandish? Is the luxurious type of costume no more exactly dateable? — a not too distant costume is to be present in a portrait by Moretto, a painter in Brescia, a north Italian metropolis on a commerce path to the Hapsburg Empire over the Alps; it’s dated 1526 and is within the Nationwide Gallery. Is the boy’s decrease jaw lengthy sufficient to be recognized as a Hapsburg jaw, and will he be some minor princeling of that household? How wry it’s that in an exhibition dedicated to courtly portraiture through which so many costumes embody all of the keys and clues, the least acquainted and most astonishing instance defies and defeats the scholarly self-discipline of the historian of costume.
Don’t dismiss this exhibition as a deal with for members of the Girls’s Institute; filled with info, it’s an exhibition of excessive seriousness, however of amusement too, and its highlights are work of nice magnificence; I used to be unwise to groan.
In Effective Fashion: The Artwork of Tudor and Stuart Trend is at The Queen’s Gallery, SW1 (020 7766 7300, royalcollection.org.uk) till October 6. Open day by day 10am-5.30pm. Admission £9.50 (concs obtainable).