Friday, October 7, 2016

Scribblers Tour of the National Portrait Gallery

I went a little crazy on this month's Austen Author's post, where I put together my "Scribblers Tour" of the Ntaional Portrait Gallery. Here is the beginning. Please come by and check out the rest of the post. I had a lot of fun putting it together, and I hope those who read it find it gratifying.
I have been traveling. Oh, have I been traveling! I spent a week in Edinburgh last month and then was so fortunate to return to the UK and attend the opening weekend of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Of course, I had an amazing time. Along my journey I made a stop at the National Portrait Gallery in London, a place I had not previously managed to visit. The gallery contains an impressive collection of famous Brits, but determined lit geek that I am, it was the portraits of the writers that most entranced me. How wonderful to encounter face after face of so many beloved authors! The best of these portraits capture the quality of the writer's work within the image. I had an excellent afternoon, journeying through the history of british literature, which I would very much like to share with you. Please join me for what I'm terming a scribblers tour of the gallery.
Unknown artist after Hans Holbein the Younger, oil on panel, late 16th century (1527)
Unknown artist after Hans Holbein the Younger, oil on panel, late 16th century
One of the first faces to greet me upon entering the museum was Sir Thomas More's (1478-1535). It is impossible to do justice to this man's legacy in a few words. I highly recommend the Wolf Hall novels by Hilary Mantel if you are curious about his role in the government of Henry VIII. I'll just say a few words about his literary legacy. His Utopia, a latin text highly influenced by Plato's Republic, describes an oppressively ordered yet simultaneously idealized society. It spawned an entire genre of literature and has inspired political philosophers into our modern age. Without it there would be no 1984, no Brave New World, and maybe no such thing as a forced labor camp. More is also responsible for creating the vile image of Richard III that the Tudors promoted - that Shakespeare based his play upon - in his unfinished manuscript The History of King Richard III. Canonized in 1935, his biography is both fascinating and troubling, and this gorgeous painting captures the intelligence fueling an obdurate personality.
"When men go to buy a colt, where they are risking only a little money, they are so cautious that, though the animal is almost bare, they won't close the deal until saddle and blanket have been taken off, lest there be a hidden sore underneath. Yet in the choice of a mate, which may cause either delight or disgust for the rest of their lives, man are so careless that they leave all the rest of the women's body covered up with clothes and estimate her attractiveness from a here handsbreadth of her person, the face, which is all they can see."                                                                                                                               - from Utopia, 1516
attributed to John Taylor, oil on canvas, feigned oval, circa 1610
Attributed to John Taylor, oil on canvas, feigned oval, circa 1610
A few rooms over was the man who needs no introduction, William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Darling of the Elizabethan stage, poet extraordinaire, and probably the most famous writer since Homer, what more can I really say about him? The gallery has ninety-six portraits of Shakespeare in their collection, a reflection of his celebrity. I firmly believe that Much Ado About Nothing was the inspiration for Elizabeth and Darcy's romance in Pride & Prejudice. Shakespeare's artistic legacy has shaped our literature and language for centuries. For goodness sake, it's a foregone conclusion: Shakespeare's work is the stuff dreams are made on. All's well that ends well.
BEATRICE: But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?
BENEDICT: Suffer love! A good epithite! I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will.
BEATRICE: In spite of your heart, I think. Alas, poor heart, if you spite it for my sake, I will spite it for yours, for I will never love that which my friend hates.
BENEDICT: Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably.
                                                         - from Much Ado About Nothing, 1598
Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1595
Unknown English artist, oil on panel, circa 1595
It was with reverence that I next gazed upon the next visage, belonging to one of my favorite poets: John Donne (1572 -1631). A shinning star of the metaphysical poets and dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, Donne is a man who fascinates but whom I'm not sure I'd actually have liked to meet, much like his distant kinsman, Thomas More. Unlike More, Donne renounced his Catholicism in exchange for social acceptance and eventual advancement in the state sanctioned church. His lusty verses stand in stark contrast to his clerical career, but regardless of all his contradictions, his poetry is undeniably brilliant and way ahead of its time. This romantic, brooding portrait suits him very well.
‘Tis true, ‘tis day, what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise because ‘tis light?
Did we lie down because ‘twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.
Light hath no tongue, but is all eye;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst that it could say,
That being well I fain would stay,
And that I loved my heart and honour so,
That I would not from him, that had them, go.
                                                              - from Break of Day, 1622, 1633
The tour can be taken in its entirety at AustenAuthors.net! Please join me:  http://austenauthors.net/scribblers-at-the-national-portrait-gallery-london/

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