While newly crowned King Charles III settles into the palace and his list of political duties, the press subjects the Royal Family to vicious scrutiny, criticizing old and new traditions. One of the Family’s longest-running customs is their eloquent art collection. Estimated at £10 billion, the Royal Collection is named one of the world’s largest art reserves.
Although the Royals are infamous for questionable decisions and arguably a lack in ethical meter, most can agree that the Family has a strong influence on European fashion and a keen eye for exquisite artwork.
Dating back to the mid-1500s, European fashion has been carefully conserved thanks to a few men who knew how to work a paintbrush.
Mary, Queen of Scots by François Clouet (c. 1558)
Imagine this: You are six years old and told you now hold the throne to all of Scotland. Thankfully, only Mary, Queen of Scots can relate to this tragedy. From the start of her marriage in 1558 to her execution for treason in 1587, her attire evolved along with the events in her life. Captured in this painting by François Clouet, Mary’s embellished rose-pink dress marks the start of her marriage to Dauphin François. The peacock-like collar, known as a medici and commonly worn by the Queen of France, Maria de Medici, reigned in popularity in the 16th century and carried into the 17th century as well. After the death of her husband, Mary’s wardrobe took a drastic shift from bright colors and buoyant bodices to dark hues that shrouded her silhouette and cloaked her in mourning that lasted several years.
Anne of Denmark by Paul Somer (c. 1617-18)
Anne of Denmark carried the Medici collar trend into the new century along with a new and very notable symbol of the early 1600s fashion, the farthingale—a voluptuous circular skirt insert. Originating in Spain, the fashion trend moved to Europe in the mid-16th century. The farthingale helped display elegant patterns and fabrics. Anne of Denmark’s dress is a prime example of early 17th-century fashion. Her Medici collar, farthingale skirt, stomacher bodice, and leg-of-mutton sleeves perfectly portray this time period’s trending fashion styles in the most inordinate way possible.
Princess Sophia, later Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Electress of Hanover by Gerrit Van Honthorst (c. 1649)
Silk is arguably one of the hardest fabrics to paint, and thanks to King Louis XIV and his mission to promote luxurious fabrics, there were many painters practicing their silk-painting skills. Honthorst created many artistic variations of the Princess, but this specific portrait is the last one in prime condition. The Princess is featured wearing a few in-style elements such as the scalloped neckline, the stomacher bodice, and tiny pearls for added decoration. Her sleeves are delicately tied back with said pearls while she extends her arm to a stream of water.
Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Cristofano Allori (c. 1613)
The Book of Judith goes like this: A woman uses her impeccable beauty to lure in and kill an Assyrian general to save Israel from oppression. And for that, we applaud her. In this depiction of Judith carrying Holofernes’ head, she wears a gown that resembles a traditional Asian dress from the era of the Wei and Jin dynasties in 220-589 AD. Interestingly enough, Judith was not of Asian descent nor did her story take place in an Asian country. So, it makes you wonder why Allori chose such a similar dress style to that of Asian culture. The bold orange and (again) luxurious silk captivates the eye while slightly drawing the viewer’s gaze from Holofernes’ head in her hand.
Queen Charlotte by Benjamin West (c. 1779)
One of the most important parts of the Queen’s life is bearing children to continue the King’s namesake and to guarantee an heir to the throne. This painting by Benjamin West depicts the Queen in the foreground with her 13 children (two more to come later) in the background along with the King’s crown and her pup. During the late 1700s, fashion saw rather the opposite of what the Queen portrays here. Queen Charlotte required her court to continue the farthingale trend一despite no longer being in style一 and disregarding what the locals were wearing. However, she was a fan of hairstyle trends—excessive and rather expansive, this oval hairstyle is a trend Queen Charlotte felt apt to partake in.
Before the time of tiny pixels and film rolls, everyone leaned on artists to keep historical events and famous faces relevant. Now, while fashion trends change rapidly, neoclassical art rests peacefully in wooden frames, allowing us to learn its history and emulate it in modern creations.
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