Ten works inspired by 17th Century portraiture created after winning the BP Travel Award 2013. The prize was used to research how lace and textiles were depicted in early 17th century portraiture and come up with new and contemporary answers to this rich and evocative inspiration.
She Becomes Her
In this painting I was inspired by the paintings of Robert Peake the Elder (ca. 1551-1619). He was an English painter working at the English court during the later years of Elizabeth I and during most of the reign of James I. He was the main ‘Picture maker’ to Henry, Prince of Wales since 1604 and became Serjeant Painter together with John de Critz in 1607. Peake’s paintings were fairly old-fashioned at the time, showing the influence of Elizabethan painter Hilliard in its rich colours, exquisite detail and pattern and lack of realism in form and perspective.
One of his paintings in particular, of an unknown lady, inspired me to create She Becomes Her because of its wonderfully modern looking blackwork skirt, her beautiful detailed bodice and her slightly mischievous look. The background of this painting is an earthy greenish-brown. The painting shows well how these early Jacobean paintings remain so flat in its presentation of women.
The lady’s face and hands are like a doll; porcelain white with an unnatural blush. She has smooth long hands with unrealistic thin fingers and high fashionable hair. There is very little detail in the face and very little textures in the skin. At the same time there is an abundance of detail and variety of texture in the dress and jewels. Her dress and jewels reveal her station in life. The lady is her outfit. The outfit is her.
My lady of 2014 is wearing a skirt inspired by Peake’s lady, a bodice decorated in a faint historic style, a jet black beaded cape from the 1920s and a feather in her hair. Her face paint recalls the Tudor and Jacobean ideal of a white skin, but in my painting it is applied badly, or not finished, on a naturally tanned woman. The ‘ideal' has gaps and shows us a hint of the woman underneath. She is completely composed however, her hands and her posture show a self awareness and conscious self presentation.She is playing a part, or perhaps it has taken over her character. She is her. But who is she? The newspaper in the background is quiet hint to the current debate about the way women get presented and represented in the media; magazines and papers and how this plays with our own image of femininity. The 2-dimensional pictures in the media become real life or even real life goals. The writing on the picture plane breaks the illusion of realism and abruptly brings it back to a flat surface.
The woman behind the mask; who is she? Is she acting or pretending? Is this a beauty ideal or a theatrical character? Who is she kidding?
The Long Wait
I have been intrigued by the portraits of pregnant women from the late 16th and early 17th century, such as the ones painted by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Pregnancy and child birth is nowadays a completely different affair, but the wonder of new life has hopefully not changed in the eyes of the new parents. Inspired by such a dazzling display I decided to bring it into our own time. I portrayed a heavily pregnant friend wearing a modern top of her own choice. She is the 21st century woman, but she is as timeless as human kind itself in her pregnant state.
Her skirt is a copy of the gown of our unknown 17th century lady. For this I copied the pattern from Gheeraerts’ painting, transferred int onto silver-grey taffeta silk and applied the pearls. I could then paint my model wearing the skirt.
The background of The Long Wait is a lace pattern take from an allegedly 16th century piece of lace held at Sudely Castle in Gloucestershire. It is said to have been worked on by Anne Boleyn during her pregnancy and used during Elizabeth I’s christening. The piece was purchased by Emma Dent who collected most of the fantastic lace collection at Sudeley Castle in the late 19th century. there is no real provenance for the piece, just the diary entries from Emma Dent, in which she states she bought the piece in 1878 from descendants of Catherine Parr and it had this story attached that it had belonged to Anne Boleyn. It has since simply always known as a ‘canopy’ made fro Elizabeth I as a baby. That is the reason I have included in my painting, as the association with it are and have always been, pregnancy, new life and motherhood.
In my book ‘The Lace Trail’ I raise doubts about the story attached to the canopy and the consequent date of manufacture. I argued that the piece is a patchwork of 19th and 17t century lace, mostly likely put together in the 19th century
Inspired by the Dutch 17th century ruffs so often seen in portraiture of the time I mixed art and fashion history with a bit of twenties swing.
The Handkerchief Girl
This painting is a play on the recurring motif of a handkerchief in 17th century portraits and more specifically in William Larkin’s works. The curtains and carpet are also frequently seen. For this costume I collected many lace handkerchiefs. I ended up wit mostly 19th and 20th century peices, most interestingly a Bedfordshire lace handkerchief (in the centre of the painting) and a modern reproduction early reticella lace in the model’s hand. The giant skirt is mostly edged with authentic 17th century reticella lace. Antique golden shoes from the 1920s finish off the image.
There yet so remote. Does she even want to be here? Does she not feel ‘pretty’? Is it about her or about her dress.