Fine paintings, beautiful clothes and fantastic jewels are all to be found in the latest show at the Queens Gallery. It is the first exhibition to explore fashion using Tudor and Stuart portraits.
Sumptuary laws cited who could wear what. The colour, style, material and even garment type shouted out where you stood in society. Lynx fur could not be worn by anybody below the rank of Duke, while silver tissued with gold was permitted for members of the Royal family alone. So important were the details that Holbein made notes on his sketches about the exact details of purple velvet .
Just as today’s celebrities influence what we all wear so did Tudor and Stuart nobility. Charles II was not content with being seen wearing the richest and most extravagant clothes and decided that he wanted to lead fashion as well. In 1666 he announced that a long vest worn under a coat would replace doublet and hose as the fashion for English men. The King is seen wearing this style in the painting, “Charles II Presented with a Pineapple” and three weeks later Samuel Pepys is writing about his own new suit of clothes.
It is not only clothes but also jewels that twinkle in the pictures. ‘La Peregrina’ was the largest pearl in the world at the time. It is seen in portraits of Queen Mary I who was given it as an engagement gift by Philip II of Spain. So precious was the pearl that when Mary died the Spanish crown took repossession of it and it is next seen in a portrait of Margaret of Austria. The pearl still survives and remains the preferred gift of the rich and famous, Richard Burton gave it to Elizabeth Taylor on Valentine’s Day 1969.
Many of the sixty paintings on display show their wealthy subjects wearing sumptuous and deeply impractical clothing, not only could they afford the luxury – they didn’t actually need to do anything! The exhibition is accompanied by an excellent and witty guide that is presented as a parody of Grazia magazine.
The Queens Gallery and indeed all the Royal collection properties represent a fantastic bargain. If you sign your ticket and have it stamped by one of the wardens at the time of your first visit you can use it as often as you like for a year.
Tickets £9.50 adult, over 60/student £8.75, under 17 £4.80, family £24