In Fine Style – a superb Tudor and Stuart exhibition

10 May 2013

Photo: Melanie Clegg.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the blogger’s preview yesterday morning of the new exhibition In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. It must surely be testament to how thoroughly excited I was about this exhibition that I did not at all begrudge getting up at 3.30am to get there for the 9am start and proof of how ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT it is that I think it was an entirely well spent effort.

Photo: Melanie Clegg.

This exhibition explores the sumptuous costume of British monarchs and their court during the 16th and 17th centuries through portraits in the Royal Collection. During this period fashion was central to court life and was an important way to display social status. Royalty and the elite were the tastemakers of the day, often directly influencing the styles of fashionable clothing.

In Fine Style follows the changing fashions of the period, demonstrates the spread of styles internationally and shows how clothing could convey important messages. Including works by Hans Holbein the Younger, Nicholas Hilliard, Van Dyck and Peter Lely, the exhibition brings together over 60 paintings, as well as drawings, garments, jewellery, accessories and armour.

Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Let’s face it, if you are into royal and aristocratic portraiture, there are few collections to touch the Royal Collection and the effect when they bring some of their most wonderful pieces together to display together is really quite staggering. The rooms of the exhibition were a riot of colour, rich shimmering fabrics, glossy hair and shimmering fine lace. It was absolutely amazing.

Photo: Melanie Clegg.

The layout of the exhibition and all the sumptuous imagery on display really encourages the viewer to get as close as they can to the portraits, all the better to feast your eyes on the amazing rich detailing of the fabrics, lace, jewels and trimmings on display. It really is extraordinary how much attention to detail went into even what could be considered the most trivial aspects of a costume – I was particularly struck by the lavishness of sleeves, something that our well dressed forebears clearly put a lot of thought into, lavishing lace, jewels and ribbons on them. I recalled though that making sleeves as presents, particularly to loved ones, was a popular pastime in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries so clearly they were considered rather more special than they are now.

Also on display were some wonderful examples of contemporary clothes, many of which with royal associations but several there just because they are beautiful and rare examples of seventeenth century fashion. I fell a bit in love with Henrietta Maria’s crimson mule shoes, garnished with a touch of gold lace.

Naturally, I ran around like a mad thing taking photographs of EVERYTHING so here are some of the highlights. Brace yourselves for VISUAL OVERLOAD.

Details from Louis, the Grand Dauphin and his Family, Mignard, 1687. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Detail from the Three Eldest Children of Charles I, Van Dyck, 1636. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Eleanor Needham, Lady Byron, Lely, c1663. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from James II, when Duke of York with Anne Hyde, Princess Mary and Princess Anne by Lely, c1668. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Charles II when Prince of Wales, Dobson, 1644. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

The Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, Archduchess of Austria, Pourbus the Younger, c1598-1600. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Margaret of Austria, Queen Consort of Philip III of Spain, Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, c1605. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Portrait of a Young Girl, British School, c1630. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Prince Henry Frederick of Bohemia, Flemish School, c1616. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Alleged portrait of the young Henrietta Maria when a Princess of France, Anonymous, c1622. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Princess Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, van Doort, 1609. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Portrait of a Woman, British School, c1620. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Detail from Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, Mytens, 1626. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Detail from Mary Princess of Orange, Hanneman, 1655. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Lady Bowes, British School, 1630. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Portrait of a Lady, Cornelius Johnson, 1624. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Detail from Anne of Denmark. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Charles I, Van Dyck, 1645-6. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Charles I, Mytens, 1628. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Charles II Dancing at a Ball at Court, Janssens, c1660. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Mary II when Princess of Orange, Wissing, c1686-7. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Queen Henrietta Maria, Van Dyck, c1632. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Frances Stuart, later Duchess of Richmond, Lely, c1662. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Frances Stuart, later Duchess of Richmond, Huysmans, 1664. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Anne of Denmark, van Somer, 1617. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Mary of Modena, when Duchess of York, Verelst, c1675. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Anne of Denmark, Gheeraerts, 1614. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Elizabeth I when a Princess, Attributed to Scrots, c1546.Photo: Melanie Clegg. (One of my favourite portraits so I may have gone a BIT wild.)

Henry VIII, van Cleve, c1530-5. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Details from Portrait of a Man in Red, Unknown Artist, c1530-50. Photo: Melanie Clegg. This painting had a room to itself to highlight its recent conservation work and inviting visitors to speculate on the sitter’s identity.

Edward VI, Attributed to Scrots, 1546-7. Photo: Melanie Clegg.

Queen Anne Boleyn, Holbein, c1533-6. Photo: Melanie Clegg. Now before you all shout at me, this is the official identification of the Royal Collection which I have spoken with them about and agree with, mainly because I think ONLY the Queen, in this case Anne Boleyn, could have been portrayed so informally in her nightgown in this period.

Anyway, there ends my pictures! Unbelievably, I haven’t posted photographs of everything on show – this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this astonishing and really excellent exhibition.

Photo: Melanie Clegg.

But wait! It doesn’t entirely end there! We were all fortunate to be given copies of this brilliant fake glossy fashion magazine from the seventeenth century. How cool is this? It was the brainchild of someone in the Royal Collections Media team, who was inspired by the fact that fashion magazines as we know them had their birth in the seventeenth century.

Anyway, I slipped two extra copies in my bag to giveaway to two lucky commenters on this post so you too can enjoy Mr Samuel Pepys’ style queries, tips on how to spot a Restoration fop and hints on when to put your sons into trousers instead of skirts and LOTS more. It’s ace.

Photo: Melanie Clegg.

In Fine Style opens today at the Queen’s Gallery and is running until Sunday 6th October. Here is your timely warning that if you plan to combine a visit to the exhibition with a jaunt inside Buckingham Palace then you need to pre-book tickets for the latter well beforehand as it’s a strictly book in advance job. Unless like me you hung on to your tickets from last year so you can get in for free this summer. Woohoo.

Photo: Melanie Clegg.

ps. There’s also an excellent learning room for children with Jacobean costumes and a brilliant portrait backdrop to pose in front of as well as bags containing activities to go with the exhibition.

pps. There’s a great free interactive app to go with the exhibition. You can download the app, take photos of yourself and then make yourself look like a Tudor or Stuart beauty. It’s inspired by a totally mad miniature of Henrietta Maria in the exhibition which had her face and then a whole slew of different hairstyles, hats, BEARDS etc that could be placed on top.

Many thanks to Anna Reynolds and everyone at the Royal Collection for inviting me to such a fun event.

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‘Frothy, light hearted, gorgeous. The perfect summer read.’ Minette, my young adult novel of 17th century posh doom and intrigue is now £2.02 from Amazon UK and $2.99 from Amazon US.

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