Tag Archives: art

Historical Events in London

Next month, I’m going to London to the IHR’s Novel Approaches Conference which looks at the differences and similarities between academic history and historical fiction. This is a subject I’ve been interested in for quite a while. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with historical fiction. Some of my favourite novels are historical fiction but inaccuracies and deviations from historical fact drive me crazy.

While I’m in London, I’m going to the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery. I don’t know all that much about him but I’m really excited to see the exhibition. Ironically, given the conference, much of what I do know about him comes from historical fiction, specifically Samuel Black’s “The Ground is Burning” which I thought was fantastic.

The Belle Ferronnière, Da Vinci

I’m also hoping to visit the Royal Manuscripts exhibition at the British Library. This looks set to be a fantastic chance to see some of the British Library’s most beautiful items: the illuminated manuscripts from the the Medieval and Early Modern periods, belonging to kings and queens.

The History of Good King Alexander the Great

The Exploits of Alexander the Great, Paris, c.1420-1425

Research- It’s A Tough Job

Tomorrow I’m off on a rather exciting research trip/holiday. First off, we’ll be in Florence for a few days to look at art, bookbinding workshops, perfumeries and anything connected to Catherine de’ Medici’s childhood. She spent much of her life before her move to France to marry Henri in 1533. After that, we’ll be spending a few days in Ferrara. Lucrezia Borgia lived in Ferrara from her marriage to Alfonso D’Este in 1502 until her death in 1519. I’m hoping to get a better idea of the other Lucrezia here, the one who inspired the town to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of her arrival by declaring 2002 to be the Year of Lucrezia Borgia. We are also hoping to take a trip to Venice.

Painting reputed to be of Lucrezia Borgia

Painting reputed to be of Lucrezia Borgia

I’m also looking forward to having a look around the cities where three of my favourite novels are set. Sarah Dunant’s The Birth of Venus is set in Florence; In the Company of the Courtesan in Venice; and Sacred Hearts in a convent in Ferrara.

I shall be back in a week, hopefully with lots of photos and Borgia information.

Anne Boleyn portrait

We have little in the way of contemporary portraits of Anne Boleyn although there are some descriptions of her looks in letters from ambassadors at the English court.

Late sixteenth century copy of an earlier work

Anne Boleyn

This famous portrait of her, a late sixteenth century copy of an earlier work, in the National Portrait Gallery in London is in need of urgent conservation. The NPG has launched an appeal for donations to help ensure this important work is undertaken and the painting is preserved for future generations. Information is here. Please help if you can.

I’m visiting London next month so will definitely be visiting the NPG for a look at their Tudor, and other, works. I’m also teaching a class on Anne and her step-daughter Mary tomorrow night as part of the Infamous Women course.

Lady in Her Bath

Lady in Her Bath by Francois Clouet, 1570

Lady in Her Bath by Francois Clouet, 1570

This portrait by François Clouet (son of François Ier’s court painter, Jean Clouet) is housed in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA. Painted in 1570 or 1571, it was thought to depict Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henri II. This is mainly due to the painting being dated 1550, during Henri’s reign. In 1550, Diane was at the height of her power. Though Henri had other mistresses, her position was unassailable. The king always returned to her, his other dalliances quickly forgotten.

However, Diane died in 1566 and the later dating of the painting would suggest that she is not the subject. In 1570, the second of Henri’s three sons who would rule France was on the throne. François II, his eldest son had ruled for two and a half years before succumbing to an ear infection. In 1560, Charles-Maximillien acceded to the throne of France as Charles IX. It has therefore been suggested that the sitter for this portrait was the mistress of Charles.

Charles became king at ten years old and until his majority was declared in August 1563, Catherine de’ Medici, his mother, ruled as regent. On reaching his majority, the king and Queen Mother embarked upon a tour of France in order to show the king to his people. It is thought that the young king met his mistress on the return journey of that tour. This would place their meeting in the spring of 1565 when Charles was 15.

Marie Touchet

Marie Touchet

The court stopped at Blois in the Loire Valley and it was there or in nearby Orléans that Charles met Marie Touchet. Marie was the daughter of an Orléannais magistrate and became his lifelong mistress. Reports of Marie at court are universally sympathetic. They describe a beautiful young girl, with blonde hair and white shoulders. She was artless and held no personal ambition and was therefore accepted and indeed supported by the Queen Mother who saw in her no threat to her own hold over the king.

Charles married in 1570. He was dutiful and affectionate to his wife, Elizabeth of Austria but remained devoted to his mistress, with whom he had a son. Clouet also painted Elizabeth and this portrait is considered one of his finest. Elizabeth was said to be distraught when Charles died at only 23 years old. The couple had a daughter who did not long survive her father. Marie and her bastard, though, fared better. She married some years after Charles’s death and had two daughters, dying in Paris in 1638, almost 90 years old. Their son, also called Charles, became duc d’Angoulême and after being pardoned for his involvement in various conspiracies against HenriIV, died in 1650 aged 77.

Elizabeth of Austria by Francois Clouet

Elizabeth of Austria by Francois Clouet