HISTORY, ROMANCE AND...CATS!
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a vet by day and author of intelligent historical fiction by night. Grace is an avid reader and believes that smart people need to read romance - as an antidote to the modern world!
Grace is also obsessed by all things feline.
My eldest son
is working on the pieces for his final show of his fine art degree. Hopefully,
this June he will graduate from art school and start earning a living as a
professional artist. So it is with interest that I discovered the collective
terms for a group of artists is a ‘misbelief’.
This is one
of those terms (a ‘misbelief of artists’) that make me think there was more
humour around in the Middle Ages than we give credit for. The term ‘misbelief’
derives from the need of an artist to make a living (son take note!) and
flatter the sitter. Thus, the corpulent patron appeared more svelte, and thin,
reedy, clients were gifted broader shoulders and sturdier chests.
The job of
the artist was to flatter – in exchange for which a pleased patron would be
more likely to give employment in future. This makes sense because human nature
dictates that no one wants to be remembered by posterity as looking anything
less than your best.
artist could conjure beauty where there was none, and rendered an image of the
sitter as they wanted the world to see them.
Perhaps one of the most famous
examples, which also backfired, is Holbein’s portrait of Anne of Cleves.
Anne of Cleves, by Holbein the Younger
unfamiliar with the story, after the death of Queen Jane after the birth of
Edward, King Henry VIII was now ready to marry again and on the prowl for his fourth
wife. The ageing King still considered himself something of a catch, and whilst
he understood the importance of making a good political match, it was a basic
requirement that his future wife was beautiful.
despatched his court painter, Hans Holbein, to paint portraits of the likeliest
candidates. One portrait depicted a serene lady dressed in red and gold,
looking ethereal and regal. Henry fell in love with this woman, Anne of Cleves,
and married her.
Unfortunately, the reality of of Henry’s ‘Flanders mare’ fell
far short of the expectation raised by the portrait, he felt grossly misled,
and the marriage ended in divorce.
Detail from the painting of Christina of Denmark
is less well known is Holbein’s portrait of another princess, Christina of
Denmark. She is shown looking dour and plain, dressed in mourning black. Not
surprisingly Henry overlooked her as not attractive enough – a lucky escape
interesting is that other portraits of Christina show her looking much more
approachable and pretty. I can’t help suspecting she played the portrait game
to her own ends, by putting forward an unappealing façade to put Henry off!
Christina of Denmark as a girl
painters must find their own path and balance flattery with truth if they are
to make a living. I suppose painting a realistic picture is all very well, but
the chances are you won’t get repeat trade…then as now.