an ingenious and exhilarating celebration of a British dynasty (in New York)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new Tudors exhibition is the most exhilarating celebration of this mighty dynasty ever presented in the United States. It is ingeniously presented, reflecting a careful selection of portraits, not only the captivating monarchs fully dressed, but also alluring portraits, medals, miniatures and prints, set against the backdrop of sculpture, silver and tapestries. which shone with threads of precious metals. These spectacular exhibits coalesce into a marvelous whole, which delights the senses while offering fascinating insights into the workings and history of this famous but in many ways still mysterious “house”.

Take for example the ‘Darnley Portrait’, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, which captures the likeness of middle-aged Queen Elizabeth I, suitably dressed in pearls and holding a fan of dyed feathers; a reminder of our early Elizabethan era. But the Met’s grand spectacle actually commands the international array of luxury goods that adorned court life.

The opening showcase juxtaposes bronze sculpture and rich furnishing textiles, both originating from Florence. Cloth of gold woven in crimson silk with the pomegranate as the central motif forms the backdrop to two angels bearing candlesticks from the tomb of Cardinal Wolsey, designed and cast by Florentine Benedetto da Rovezzano in London, alongside one of the four giant candelabras intended to flank this tomb, on loan from the cathedral of Ghent.

Over the past 20 years, under former director Tom Campbell, this great museum has promoted appreciation of European tapestry art. There is the breadth and richness of the tapestry depiction of the history of Troy acquired by Henry VII just three years after the Battle of Bosworth; and the 384-square-metre Rédemption de l’Homme de Narbonne, the only survivor of a series of 10, acquired in Brussels 10 years after the Troie series, which extended over more than a hundred meters.

Henry VII’s adornment, woven with silver thread and gilding, told the Christian history of the world and was then taken to France to embellish the English pavilions of the Champ du Clod d’Or. Recurring figures representing the Trinity are enhanced by beautifully observed details of the natural world, telling of Creation, fish swim beneath the surface of the stream, while waterfowl wade through the water. In 1523, Cardinal Wolsey had his own set of The Redemption of Man.

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