Archive for the ‘Renaissance’ Category

Conserving the Wolsey Closet ceiling at Hampton Court Palace

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

Hampton Court was built by Thomas, Cardinal Wolsey, the immensely wealthy and influential statesman who served as Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII. He spent hundreds of thousands of crowns and ten years building a lavish palace worthy to host visiting royalty domestic and foreign. Henry stayed in the state rooms in 1525 and was favorably impressed, so much so that Wolsey gave him the palace in 1528 in the attempt to stave off his fall from grace.

It didn’t work. In 1529, Wolsey’s failure to secure an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon saw him stripped of his offices and properties. He would have probably lost his head too, but he died on his way to London to answer to treason charges in 1530.

Henry promptly set to work expanding the palace. The famous kitchens, the Great Hall with its amazing hammer-beam roof, the gatehouse, its astronomical clock, and enough rooms to accommodate a court of one thousand date to Henry’s reign. Subsequent monarchs, most notably William and Mary with their two Baroque wings, made major additions and alterations to the palace.

Most of the original spaces from Cardinal Wolsey’s time are gone. The Wolsey Closet, today part of the 18th century Georgian Rooms, is now the only surviving room from what were once the cardinal’s personal apartments. It too has gone through changes. The linenfold oak panelling is Tudor but not original to the room. The panel paintings on the walls — scenes from the Passion of the Christ — were commissioned by Henry VIII but also later installations in the room. The frieze at the top of the walls repeats Wolsey’s motto taken from Psalm 117 “Dominus michi adjutor” (The Lord is my help) and surely dates to his time, but it isn’t original to the room either. It was in a larger space, trimmed and reset in the Closet as it is today.

The Tudor roses and Prince of Wales feathers on the elaborate ceiling were long believed to be made of leather maché in the Tudor era, but when Historic Royal Palaces conservators began to study the ceiling to learn how best to repair it, they discovered how much they still have to learn about the complicated history of this room. This video gives an all-too-brief summary of what they’ve found so far.


Unknown Cranach work found in Rylands Library

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

A previously unknown work by the workshop of renowned Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Younger has been identified in the collection of the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library. It is catalogued under the non-descript name of German MS 2. There was no information about it in the book itself. The title page dubbed the volume “Deutsches Stammbuch” (German Genealogies) and dated it 1565. The back cover had the initials P.T. stamped on it.

Dr. Ben Pope of the University of Tübingen realized it was not a genealogy, but rather an armorial, a collection of coats of arms of German noble families, and a splendid one at that at that. It contains more than 1,800 coats of arms from the aristocracy and nobility of the Holy Roman Empire hand-painted in brilliant color and fine detail. He was able to trace its origins to mid-16th century Saxony, right to the top of it, in fact. From correspondence in the state archives in Dresden, Pope learned that in 1565 August, Elector of Saxony, commissioned Lucas Cranach the Younger to make a faithful copy of a ca. 1500 armorial that had belonged to Lucas’ father Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Armorials were essential sources for artists needed to reproduce the arms of noble patrons in their commissions. The earlier armorial was used in the Cranach’s Wittenberg workshop as a reference. August wanted a complete, faithful copy of the armorial and any other coats of arms the Younger might be able to add to the collection. The Elector gave detailed instructions to Cranach, all of which have been followed in the manuscript, and the coat of arms of Saxony is particularly stunning.

As was typical of armorials from southern Germany, this one opens with coats of arms of historic figures, towns and churches representing the idealized virtues and socio-political structure of the Empire. The arms of imperial princely and noble families follow. The arms of private societies formed by lower nobles are also included, and this is rare as they have only been found in four armorials.

Despite its Saxon origin, the armorial has a particular connection to the imperial house of Habsburg. It includes an illustration of the Romreich, the imperial herald, the arms of Emperor Frederick III, those of his son Maximilian, and those of Maximilian’s second wife Bianca Maria Sforza.

Bianca Maria’s arms fill the first page of the Cranach copy, and there is good reason to think that she was at the heart of the original armorial too, as her arms are followed by those of thirty-nine princely ladies of the Empire. This unusual collection of women’s arms depicts individuals living in 1499/1500 and is thus both an integral part of the original material and a clear statement of Bianca Maria’s status as the highest ranking woman in the Empire. This section’s presentation in Rylands German 2 suggests that Bianca Maria is the head of a separate ‘province’, a parallel Empire of women.

Rylands German 2 thus offers insights into a sixteenth-century prince’s heraldic interests and artistic patronage; an artist’s use of heraldic materials in his workshop; the south German armorial tradition of the fifteenth century; and the heraldic and artistic programme of the Habsburg court in the reign of Maximilian. It depicts an Empire of regions dominated by certain princes: some of these regions can be understood as the ‘territory’ of the prince at their head, but others are regional communities connected through the princes to the imperial centre. At this centre we find, surprisingly, not Maximilian, but his often overlooked second wife, Bianca Maria Sforza. This gives cause to reappraise not only her queenship, but also the wider relationship between women and heraldry in the later Middle Ages.

Mark your calendars because starting February 18th, Dr. Pope’s article detailing all of his research into German MS 2 published in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library will be available for free, but only until the February 24th. The manuscript will go on display for the first time in its existence next month. German MS 2 has been digitized so if you can’t make it to Manchester, you can up close and high-definition personal with every page of it online.


All three iconic Armada Portraits on display together for the first time in 430 years

Friday, February 14th, 2020

The three surviving portraits of Queen Elizabeth I painted to celebrate the victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 have gone on display together for the first time in their 430 years. The Armada portraits depict the Queen in victorious glory front and center flanked by two seascapes featuring episodes from the defeat of the Armada in the background. One portrait is in the Duke of Bedford’s collection at Woburn Abbey, a cropped version is in the National Portrait Gallery and one is in the Queen’s House at Royal Museums Greenwich. With both Woburn Abbey and the NPG currently undergoing refurbishment, their portraits have joined the third in Greenwich to give visitors the first opportunity in history to see the three Armada portraits together.

An artist or artists unknown made the portraits shortly after Spain’s failed invasion. At various points scholars have proposed that the original was painted by George Gower, Serjeant Painter to the Queen beginning in 1581, and copies made from that, or that the surviving portraits are derived from a miniature portrait of the queen by Elizabeth’s favorite limner (miniaturist) Nicholas Hilliard.

The three versions have several differences. Woburn Abbey and Greenwich are horizontal in orientation, the NPG’s vertical. The latter orientation was achieved by cutting the sides off the larger portrait, removing almost all of the seascapes, the edges of the queen’s enormous balloon sleeves and the symbols of her imperial glory: the globe she rests her delicate white hand on and the crown behind her. Details of her clothing and accessories differ. Woburn Abbey’s seascapes are older, almost certainly original to the painting when it was made in the late 16th century. The Greenwich portrait’s seascapes date to the 1700s, although they are painted in the style of the 1670s or 1680s. Scans of the panel found the original seascapes that match the Woburn Abbey ones underneath the later versions.

Acquired in 2016 by the National Maritime Museum from the family Sir Francis Drake after a national fundraising campaign raised £10 million ($13,225,500), the Queen’s House Armada portrait is believed to have been owned, perhaps even commissioned, by Sir Francis himself. It needed extensive conservation after centuries spent hanging over the fireplace in a drafty old mansion. Two coats of varnish had yellowed it and it was marred by paint retouching from 19th and 20th century restorations. The varnish layers were removed as were the retouchings. The two seascapes, discovered by analysis of the pigments to date to the early 18th century, were not altered because they are so inextricably connected to the iconography of the painting.

The Faces of a Queen exhibition opened on Thursday at the Queen’s House Art Gallery and runs through August 31st. Admission is free.


16th c. Venetian shipwreck treasures shared with the world

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

For the first time, plans are being made to send treasures from a 16th century Venetian shipwreck that have rarely been seen, and never outside of Croatia, on an international tour. Danish art curator Line Clausen Pedersen is working with a team of Croatian archaeologists who have been excavating the wreck of the Gagiana, a merchant ship groaning with expensive consumer goods that went down off the east Adriatic coast of what is now Croatia in 1583.

The exact circumstances of its discovery are murky. From what we know, the wreck was discovered in the early 1960s by a fisherman near the islet of Gnalić on the North Dalmatian coast about 17 nautical miles from Zadar. It is at the mouth of the Pašman Channel in the eastern Adriatic, a busy shipping route since antiquity. Authorities learned about the wreck only in 1967 after it was reported by sponge divers.

Found at a depth of  82-95 feet, the wreck is reachable by divers and there were rumors that Belgian sport divers had been looting the artifacts that peppered the surface. The government of the then-Yugoslavia directed the site be explored by archaeologists and that archaeological materials be recovered and conserved. The first official excavation began October 1967 and the salvage of artifacts from the ship and its cargo continued through 1968. Later archaeological investigations in the 1970s opened trenches to reveal information about the lower layers of the wreck.

Six excavations between 1967 and 1996 and, most recently, a University of Zadar and Texas A&M campaign from 2012 to 2014, retrieved an enormous quantity of objects, more than 20,000 of them, including two anchors, hundreds of cannons and cannonballs, eight bronze guns, and an incredibly rich and varied collection of goods that were the ship’s cargo. Destined for Constantinople were more than 5,500 Murano glass objects of 86 different types, including beads, mirrors, window panes, wine glasses, flasks, vases, cups and bowls. There were brass chandeliers, candle snuffers, wooden boxes filled with dozens of leather-framed eyeglasses, razors for shaving, pins, needles, hawk bells, 177 feet of embroidered silk damask and raw materials like coils of brass wire, ingots of lead carbonate, cinnabar, mercury and sulfur.

The artifacts provided key clues to the date and identity of the shipwreck. Two of the guns, sacri (sakers) were cast by Giovanni II Alberghetti in 1582, so the wreck couldn’t have happened any earlier than that. A lead seal bearing the initials of doge Nicolò da Ponte (r. 1578-1585) put the latest possible date at 1585. Archival research did the rest, and the ship was identified as the Gagiana, a merchant vessel sailing from Venice bound for Constantinople lost around Gnalić in November 1583.

The Gagiana might be compared to a container ship today, Clausen Pedersen explains. But the vessel never reached its destination, Istanbul. Instead it sank in mysterious circumstances in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of modern-day Croatia. “The legend is that the captain sunk it and ran off with diamonds,” the curator says. Its high-value cargo was insured, and much of the paperwork survives in archives in Venice. “One set of diamonds is registered and another was apparently on board but not registered. That is part of the narrative,” she says.

Many of the records of the Gagiana‘s voyage have survived in Venice. We know the ship belonged to the Da Gagliano family of Venice, wealthy traders whose business network extended into the Ottoman Empire. Much of the cargo of luxurious goods was destined for the Ottoman Sultan himself, Murad III, whose beloved (and very powerful) mother was Venetian, to decorate his massive new Imperial Harem.

The Gagiana‘s cargo is a unique snapshot into the luxury goods produced in Venice for export or traded through Venice. The spectacles were made in Nuremberg. The brass chandeliers were made in Lubeck. The purple-dyed damask from Lucca. The Murano glassware is particularly spectacular for its vast range of forms and quality. The sheer numbers of artifacts required a dedicated space for their conservation and display and to ensure the integrity of the collection. A new museum was created in Biograd in 1970 solely for the treasures of the Gagiana.

A selection of fine objects went on display at the Croatian History Museum in Zagreb in 2013-2014 and the exhibition was a great success. Clausen Pedersen and the Croatian team are hoping to expand that success and share the treasures of the Gnalić wreck outside the borders of Croatia.

The Danish curator has held early talks with major museums in the US, Europe, and Asia, and is also approaching possible sponsors. “My hope is to attract the shipping industry to get involved in the development of the exhibition,” she says. “They have so much money and they usually do not directly support art or culture. I figured it is a new target group,” she adds. “A shipwreck such as this obviously relates to the legacy of trade and shipping, a large and growing industry even today, the potential of collaboration is great.” She hopes the sponsor will fund some “extravagant technology” that allows a visitor to the exhibition to control an underwater exploration of the shipwreck—because “why not?” she says.


National Gallery ushers in the New Year with new Gentileschi

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

The Finding of Moses, a monumental painting by Baroque artist Orazio Gentileschi, father of Artemisia, has been acquired by the National Gallery after 20 years of trying. The Gallery first attempted to buy it in 1995 and failed. In 2002, its owner, sofa magnate Graham Kirkham, loaned the work to the museum where it has been the centerpiece of its Baroque collection. This year they were again given the opportunity to acquire The Finding of Moses for £19.5 million. With the goal in sight thanks to large grants from American Friends of the National Gallery, the National Gallery Trust and National Heritage Memorial Fund, the National Gallery launched a campaign last month to raise the remaining £2million. They announced on December 18th that the full sum has been raised and the painting acquired.

The large-scale work — 257cm (8’5″) by 301cm (9’10.5″) — depicts the scene from Exodus when the baby Moses is discovered in the reeds of the Nile by pharaoh’s daughter and her handmaids. The young woman kneeling on the left pointing at the infant in the basket is his sister Miriam. It is one of the finest examples of Orazio’s late period when he’d set aside his earlier Caravaggesque style and embraced the lush vibrancy of Late Renaissance history painters like Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.

It was painted in 1630 when Gentileschi was a court painter for the King Charles I. Charles commissioned it as a gift for his wife Queen Henrietta Maria in honor of the birth of their son, the future Charles II. Orazio was one of the Queen’s favorite painters and The Finding of Moses joined his ceiling paintings at Queen’s House, Greenwich. The sumptuous silks of the princess and her ladies and the green, woodsy rolling hills reflect the style and landscape of Henrietta Maria’s court rather than pharaonic Egypt’s.

The painting had been an acquisition priority for us since 1995, when we first attempted to buy it.

Not only is it a wonderful example of Orazio’s rich colouring, skill at painting shiny, sumptuous fabrics, and sense of courtly elegance, ‘The Finding of Moses’ has an important place in British history.

It is the first painting from the time when Orazio travelled to England to be a painter at the court of Charles I in London.

Orazio Gentileschi painted a second version of the monumental piece in 1633, this one for King Philip IV of Spain. He made the details of the textiles and jewelry even more sumptuous and bared less flesh, in keeping with the fashion of the Spanish court. Orazio gave it to the king as a gift, dispatching his son Francesco to Madrid to deliver it in person. It is now in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

The Finding of Moses will be moved to the newly renovated Baroque room in April when it will go on display in an exhibition dedicated to Orazio’s brilliant daughter Artemisia.


Christmas surprise found under painting

Wednesday, December 25th, 2019

Conservators have discovered a nativity scene underneath a damaged 16th century painting depicting the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. The canvas on wood panel painting is in the collection of The Bowes Museum, originally acquired in the 19th century by museum founders John and Josephine Bowes. Bowes Museum curators have been working with conservators from Northumbria University to assess its condition and treat the deteriorating wood structure behind the painted canvas.

Art Conservator Nicky Grimaldi and forensic scientist Dr Michelle Carlin, are now examining the painting to determine its age, background and history.

Nicky said: “It is clear that the painting is in a poor condition and has been for some time. The panel behind it is made up of several pieces of wood and where these join together there has been significant paint loss over the years.

“Our initial aim was to understand why this is occurring and recommend solutions to ensure the painting can be protected for years to come.

“The first stage of most investigations of this kind is to carry out an x-ray to understand what is going on underneath the layer of paint we see on the surface. That was when we realised there was more to the painting than we originally thought.”

Clearly visible on the x-ray is the Christ child with a halo and rays beaming off his manger, angels, a haloed figure kneeling beside him with an outstretched hand who may be one of the Three Magi. Harder to discern are the outlines of other figures and what might be the stable in the background.

As Nicky explains: “It was common practice to apply gold leaf to these type of religious paintings and in the x-ray we can see that gold is present in the halo around the baby’s head.

“Incredibly we can see lines over the x-ray image which we believe to be preparatory drawings, showing where the painting was probably copied from an original drawing (cartoon).

“Those lines were subsequently filled with another paint layer such as lead white which allows them to be visible on the x-ray.”

The painting will be analyzed further by Northumbria experts. Samples of the paint will be tested for chemical composition and the latest technology from scanning electron microscopes to infrared reflectography will be deployed.


Rijksmuseum lives its gold cup dream

Thursday, December 12th, 2019

One of the Rijksmuseum’s most cherished dreams has come true with the long-term loan of a solid gold cup by the Netherlands’ most famous goldsmith Paul van Vianen.

Paul van Vianen was the most important scion of a famous family of silversmiths from Utrecht, and he enjoyed star status in his lifetime. Subsequent generations of silversmiths looked to him as their primary source of inspiration, and artists collected his original works or copies of them. Rembrandt was among the artists who owned plaster casts of objects made by him. Van Vianen ventured out into the great wide world at the age of 16, and he worked at several famous Central European courts before ultimately joining the Prague Royal Court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, which he continued to serve until his death in May 1613.

The lid features the gods enacting a proverb from Terence’s comedy Eunuchus that “without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus freezes.” The metonym signifying that love needs food and wine to live was a popular motif in Northern Mannerist art of the second half of the 16th and first half of the 17th century. It appeared in paintings, engravings and as prints in emblem books. Rubens was fond of the motif and painted several version of a chilly Venus needing to be warmed with the fruits of Ceres and Bacchus.

The body of the cup depicts the myth of Diana and Actaeon, described by Ovid in Book III of his Metamorphoses. Actaeon comes across the Huntress bathing with her nymphs and an enraged Diana transforms him into a stag. He flees and is devoured by his own hounds. Another work of Vianen’s on the same theme, a large silver basin made in 1613, was acquired by the Rijksmuseum in 1947. It shares design and composition elements with the cup, most notably the central figure of Actaeon beginning to sprout antlers.

The cup was created in Prague in 1610 for Heinrich Julius, Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Heinrich Julius spent years at the court of Rudolph II, enlisting the emperor’s aid in his struggle against the proudly independent burghers of Brunswick who were not even remotely interested in relinquishing 200 years of autonomy and bending the knee to their ostensible prince. There’s a portrait of the prince in full armour on the inside of the cup.

After Heinrich Julius’s death in 1613, the cup passed to his daughter Sophia Hedwig, wife of Count Ernest Casimir I of Nassau-Dietz. It spent the next two centuries as the greatest masterpiece in the collection of the Dutch royal family. In 1881 it was sold to a German collector, much to the Rijksmuseum’s dismay. The museum mourned its loss by crafting a gilt copper replica, a wan simulacrum of the original. Last year the gold cup was offered to the Rijksmuseum. The Wessels family bought it for them, so while the cup is still privately owned, it will be on public display at the Rijksmuseum in perpetuo.

Gilt copper replica (left) and original gold cup (right). Photo courtesy the Rijksmuseum.


Elizabeth I’s translation of Tacitus found

Friday, November 29th, 2019

A manuscript translation of Tacitus’ Annales has been discovered to be the work of Queen Elizabeth I. The manuscript was identified by University of East Anglia researcher Dr John-Mark Philo who was looking for translations of Tacitus in the Lambeth Palace Library. It is a limp vellum binding of 17 folio pages whose title page (likely added at a later date and corrected even later) reads “An Essay of the Translation of Livy Tacitus 1st Booke of the Annals.” The manuscript wasn’t lost, but it was neglected, academically speaking. Even though it’s one of only four known early modern manuscript translations of Tacitus, it has never until now been subject of scholarship.

Dr Philo, who was a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow when he made the discovery in January this year, said: “The manuscript features a very specific kind of paper stock, which gained special prominence among the Elizabethan secretariat in the 1590s. There was, however, only one translator at the Tudor court to whom a translation of Tacitus was ascribed by a contemporary and who was using the same paper in her translations and private correspondence: the queen herself.

“The corrections made to the translation are a match for Elizabeth’s late hand, which was, to put it mildly, idiosyncratic. The higher you are in the social hierarchy of Tudor England, the messier you can let your handwriting become. For the queen, comprehension is somebody else’s problem.

“The translation itself has been copied out in an elegant scribal hand, which is itself a match for one of Elizabeth’s secretaries, but the author’s changes and additions are in an extremely distinctive, disjointed hand – Elizabeth’s. Her late handwriting is usefully messy – there really is nothing like it – and the idiosyncratic flourishes serve as diagnostic tools.”

Some of those known idiosyncrasies found in the corrections are the the top stroke of the ‘e’, an unusually horizontal ‘m’ and the broken stem of her ‘d’. The paper stock is characterized by a watermark of a lion rampant to the initial “G.B.” and a crossbow. This stock is found in many of the papers of Robert Cecil, son of Lord Burghley, Secretary of State and Lord Privy Seal of Queen Elizabeth I, whose secretaries used it for everything from letters to arrest warrants.

The manuscript is short, translating only the first book of the Annales which, after a brief introduction about the end of the Republic, covers the final acts of Augustus, his death in 14 A.D. and the first two years of Tiberius’ reign. In the late 16th century, Tacitus’ account of tyranny, torture, betrayal and depravity at the courts of the early emperors were held up as political cautionary tales, negative examples for any righteous and moral monarch to take to heart. One translator of the Annales, Flemish humanist Justus Lipsius, included extensive quotations from the ancient author in his very popular Politica. Published in 1589, Politica was a defense of strong centralized monarchy. Tacitus’ chronicles were used to illustrate how an enlightened modern ruler, unlike the ones Tacitus was dealing with, should behave.

The timing of the translation ties it to this trend in scholarship. Elizabeth could well have translated the Annales to absorb the lessons from some of history’s choicest tyrants. She could also have had an interest in some of the other personages depicted. Dr. Philo muses:

“It is hard not to wonder what Elizabeth made of Agrippina, ‘who’, as Elizabeth translates it, being a woman of a great courage, ‘tooke upon hir some daies the office of a Captaine’ and is able to rouse the troops successfully. It is not unreasonable to assume that Agrippina may have appealed to the same queen who addressed the soldiers at Tilbury, and who had deliberately represented herself as placing the importance of addressing her troops in person above her personal safety.”

Or she could have done it purely for her own intellectual enjoyment. Poet and historian John Clapham wrote in Certain Observations Concerning the Life and Reign of Queen Elizabeth in 1603:

She took pleasure in reading of the best and wisest histories, and some part of Tacitus’ Annals she herself turned into English for her private exercise. She also translated Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae, and a treatise of Plutarch, De Curiositate, with diverse others.

That Boethius translation, btw, was also written on the rampant lion-GB-crossbow stock.

The provenance of the manuscript links it to the Tudor court as well. It is catalogued as part of the collection of Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury (1636–1715), who had a significant number of documents from the court of Elizabeth I. He bequeathed his book collection to his successors, which is how it entered the library of Lambeth Palace, official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The manuscript has been fully digitized and can be perused here. Dr. John-Mark Philo’s study of the manuscript has been published in the The Review of English Studies and can be read here.


Fire destroys historic castle in Okinawa

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Shuri castle in Okinawa, Japan, suffered devastating damage in a fire this morning. The castle is of great significance to Okinawa’s cultural heritage in three ways: it was built in the  Sanzan Period (14th century) as a castle, was expanded and used as the palace of the king during the Ryukyu Kingdom, and it was rebuilt with meticulous care to historic preservation after it was shelled by US forces during World War II.

“The cause of the fire has not been determined yet but a security company alarm went off at around 2.30 in the morning,” Ryo Kochi, a spokesman with the Okinawa prefectural police said.

“It started at the main temple and looks to be spreading fast to all the main structures … firefighters are still battling the fire,” he added.

The fire continued to burn for hours even as firefighters from nearly a dozen engines worked tirelessly to extinguish it. The loss is immense. The Seiden, the main hall, and the Hokuden, the building to the north, the Nanden south of the main hall,and the Bandokoro, the former reception area that is now a museum, were entirely destroyed.

From 1429 until the end of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879, it was the royal court, center of government and foreign trade as well as the king’s residence. The wood structures are susceptible to fire and burned three times over the centuries, in 1453, 1660 and 1709. They were rebuilt.

When Okinawa was taken over by Japan and the kingdom fell in 1879, the castle was used as an army barracks. It was designated a national treasure in 1925, but the Japanese Army used its underground tunnels as a headquarters, so it was deliberately targeted for shelling during the Battle of Okinawa at the end of May 1945. Again the castle caught fire and most of the buildings were lost.

Enough of it was standing by 1950 to house the University of the Ryukyus. Reconstruction of the second main gate was completed in 1958, and a major reconstruction project began in 1992 to restore the main buildings and walls. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.


Bingewatching the Lost Dress of Elizabeth I

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

The always excellent Historic Royal Palaces YouTube channel has three new videos about the Bacton Altar Cloth, believed to be the only surviving fabric from a dress worn by Queen Elizabeth I. If it wasn’t hers, it had to have belonged to a woman of the highest nobility or royalty. There were literally laws against anyone of lesser rank wearing so sumptuous a textile. (Sumptuary laws, donchaknow.)

Its provenance can’t be definitively traced through historical records, but the pivotal connection between queen and parish altar cloth is Blanche Perry, one of Elizabeth’s longest-serving and most dedicated ladies-in-waiting. By the end of her 57 of years of service, starting when the queen was a young princess, Perry held the title of Chief Gentlewoman of Queen Elizabeth’s most honourable Privy Chamber and Keeper of Her Majesty’s jewels. The Queen was known to have given her hand-me-downs, and Perry donated the textile to her parish church, St Faith’s in Bacton, where her ancestors and her own heart are buried. Historic Royal Palaces curators confirmed that the silver chamblet silk richly embroidered with animals, people and botanicals in gold and silver thread, was once a dress.  There is evidence of pattern cutting that would not be present had the piece not been a garment later recut and sewn to make a cross-shaped altar cloth.

The conserved Bacton Altar Cloth has gone on display at Hampton Court Palace alongside the iconic Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth wearing a gown that features the elaborate embroidery and precious materials also seen in the Bacton Altar Cloth. The exhibition runs through February 23, 2020. The Historic Royal Palaces videos present fascinating background on the cloth, its conservation and installation.

This is a overview of the find, starting with an absolutely delightful visit at St. Faith’s with historian Ruth E. Richardson, former church warden Charles Hunter and Historic Royal Palaces Curator and Tudor fashion expert Eleri Lynn. The parishioners always knew their altar cloth was reputedly a piece of one of Queen Elizabeth’s gowns, but until they raised the 3 pounds some-odd necessary to frame it and hang it on the church wall in 1909, it was apparently stashed under the vicar’s bed for safekeeping. God I love history so much.

This all-too-short video gives us a glimpse at the conservation of the altar cloth. You see close-ups of the embroidery in brilliant like-new color (a view you don’t get in any of the photographs), the removal of the backing cloth and the patches underneath that while simple are meaningful historical textiles in and of themselves. I wish it were feature length, seriously.

This is a behind-the-scenes video showing the installation of the altar cloth and Rainbow Portrait. Even though there is no narration, it is riveting because you see the nuts and bolts of curatorial work, the mounting of the pieces, the detailed touch-ups on the frames, how they have to navigate through the confines of medieval spaces like those glorious but really quite short Gothic arched stone doorways. I also loved seeing the magnificent artworks casually leaning against the walls of back corridors. It conveys in a few seconds how incredibly deep a bench of cultural heritage is in Hampton Court Palace and, I’m sure, in every other site maintained by Historic Royal Palaces. Oh, and the wallpaper! A big to the dark emerald green damask wallpaper in the room where the portrait and altar cloth are now on display. 





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