There’s an excellent new exhibition opening at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace today.
Called In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion, the show features more than 60 portraits from the 16th and 17th centuries juxtaposed with sculpture, jewellery and even some rare clothing from the era to examine the fashions of the time.
The show opens with familiar portraits of Henry VIII and his three kids, but nearby panels focus on their impressive and symbolic clothing. Princess Elizabeth, considered illegitimate at the time of this painting, is wearing the most regal of gold-threaded silks below her rich, crimson gown. Certain colours and fabrics were reserved for those of royal birth by law; the impression Elizabeth and the artist William Scrots are making here is clear: “I’m part of this family too.”
Anyone doubting the power of that imagery should take a look at the publicity shots for Beyoncé’s latest tour. It seems well-placed, prominent collars and pearls still frame your face and make a display of power and wealth whatever the century.
Another wall is dominated by van Dyke’s triple portrait of Charles I, painted so the Rome-based sculptor Bernini could create a bust of the monarch. Framing the portrait is a copy of the bust itself on one side, and a wonderfully intricate lace collar which just might be a match for one of those in van Dyke’s picture on the other. Lace collars like this one hugely time-consuming to make, and were worth thousands of pounds in their day; again here, Charles is showing off his wealth and regal status.
As well as the usual suspects, there are a few less well-known figures flaunting their fashions. Next to a Peter Lely portrait of the renowned court beauty, Frances Stuart, in an amazing yellow silk gown, there’s a curious picture of this striking Stuart celebrity dressed as a soldier, wearing a buff-coloured coat with her hair styled to look like a man’s wig. This is the first time this picture, created by Jacob Husymans in 1664 has been on display. It’s tantalisingly ambiguous: is it meant to be sexually provocative? A show of power? Or is someone just innocently playing about?
Elsewhere the exhibition examines children’s clothing, dressing up for performances, international influences on English clothing and the fashions for armour in the 16th and 17th centuries. For us, it’s where the paintings are positioned next to the rare items of clothing themselves that this particular show shines. Loans of rare surviving shoes and doublets from the Museum of London (and elsewhere) are brought to life, placed next to artworks containing near-replicas inhabited by their contemporary 2D models.
Look out, too, for Rembrandt’s amazing trompe l’oeil of Agnes Bas, coming right out of the canvas to greet you, showing off her fine black and white lace. As the century moves on, the increasingly wealthy merchant class are starting to emulate their powerful leaders, wearing replicas of what was once reserved for courtiers.
And thanks to various interactive elements created by the Royal Collection team, you too can sample some of these fashions in various media. There are samples of cloth to touch; videos with modern fashion designer Gareth Pugh (see below) to watch; an exclusive exhibition playlist by Eddy Temple-Morris to listen to; and a free app where you can add your own photo to the outfits and accessories from the era. All these make fun accessories to the main event, but it's the wonderful, varied artworks that really make this show a must-see. We hope Beyoncé finds time to pop in while she’s in the UK.
In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion is at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, SW1A 1AA from 10 May until 6 October. Tickets cost £9.50 for adults, £4.80 for under 17s. Visit royalcollection.org.uk/exhibitions to find out more. Londonist saw the show at an early complimentary preview for bloggers.