Tuesday, February 2

The Tudors

Since we were totally snowed in this weekend we watched the entire first season of Showtime's The Tudors. I thought it was pretty good and I recommend it. However, let me issue a big fat warning. IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN.

It's kind of history porn. Not like the history channel is porn for history nerds. I mean actual porn.

Lots of unnecessary nudity

Since I spent my weekend googling historical inaccuracies on my blackberry in front of the TV, I figured the next few posts should be about The real Tudors. So here it goes.

Up first: Henry VIII

Henry is of course best known for starting the Church of England when Pope Clement VII refused to grant him a divorce from his first wife, the pious Spaniard Catherine of Aragon. He also beheaded two of his six wives. (BTW, Showtime does a surprisingly good job of capturing the international politics involved the the world's most famous divorce.)

Catherine of Aragon, Stained Glass Window
The Chapel at The Vyne, The Diocese of Winchester

He was seen as a smart, handsome (I don't see it) and powerful King. Those attributes were exactly what Henry wanted to be portrayed when he commissioned court artist Hans Holbein to paint this famous portrait in 1537:

Petworth House Portrait

Note the strong stance, massive shoulders, huge calves and strategically placed dagger (a common symbol used by artists to highlight a subject's virility). His strength is exaggerated and he looks like a linebacker. Henry used this portrait to send a very clear message to his subjects and the world: don't mess with me.

Just for kicks, here is Showtime's take on the famous portrait with Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry:

Rhys Meyers kind of reminds me another Henry.
I mean no disrespect to Ray Liotta, who is far better looking.
I'm just saying...

This famous portrait of England's most infamous king has an interesting history of its own. The one shown above is actually a copy. The original was painted as a part of a mural at Whitehall Palace in London. Whitehall suffered severe damage as a result of several fires in 17th century. The largest fire, which took place in the winter of 1697, left the building in ruin and the then 160 year old mural was lost forever. (1)

Etching of Whitehall Palace
by Wenceslaus Hollar (d. 1677)
Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

Luckily, a cartoon of the mural drawn by Holbein remained intact and there are at least seven copies of the portrait painted by various 16th and 17th century artists. The most famous is a replica of the mural painted at Petworth House in West Sussex, England.

Petworth The Drawing Room
by Joseph Mallord William Turner (d. 1851)
British Museum, London, England

Petworth was owned by the relatives of Henry VIII third wife, Jane Seymour. It is not known when the copy was done, but historians believe it was painted prior to the fire that destroyed Holbein's original. (2) Jane is featured in the mural, standing to the right of the King (and she is probably why the copy ended up at Petworth.)

Anne Boylen is up next. See you tomorrow!

(1) British History Online, Whitehall Palace History. Survey of London, Volume 13: Cox and Norman. 1930
(2) Icons, A Portrait of England. Holbein's Henry VIII
*Catherine of Aragon Window Photo from this excellent site about the Tudors.

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