Thursday, January 17, 2013

Henry VIII's Tomb

The picture to the right is of the marker denoting the current resting place of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Considering how momentousness Henry was in life, one would think that his tomb would be just as "large" as he. It actually was meant to be, but due to poor planning, lack of funds, and other unfortunate events, Henry's monumental tomb was never completed. Bits and pieces of it remain, scattered about England, while other were destroyed or never created. This leaves one to wonder; if it had been finished, what would it have looked like?

According to contemporary sources from the reign of Henry VIII, the tomb was to be magnificent. Originally intended for Wolsey, Henry took the partially finished tomb as his own upon the Cardinal's demise. He, in true Henry fashion, placed his own spin on it. It was to be much grander than any other tomb of the period, including his father's at Westminster Abbey. A towering monument of stone, decorated with "fine Oriental stones" formed the main body of the monument.

A drawing of what Henry's tomb probably would have looked like, via
St. George's Chapel, Windsor.
A black touchstone sarcophagus adorned with life sized bronze statues of he and Jane Seymour was to lay atop the sarcophagus. Large white marble pillars with bronzed angels and statues of the apostles surrounded it. An altar was to be added near by, along with 9 ft tall bronze candle sticks. To top it off, a life sized statue of Henry on horseback under a triumphal arch. It would have certainly been breathtaking.

However, upon Henry's death, he was buried in a vault beneath St. George's Chapel with Jane Seymour, his monument unfinished. The plan for the tomb had changed several times. The first plan was to involve Katherine of Aragon. Due to the end of his first marriage,
An interior photo of the High Altar in St. George's Chapel,
showing (what I believe to be) replicas of Henry VIII's
bronze candlesticks.
as well as a change in artist a time or two, Henry came up with several other plans. The changing of plans, distractions by foreign wars, and the expense slowed down the process of the tomb. I suspect, Henry also might have not wanted the tomb finished before his death. He showed many times that he was afraid of his own mortality. Finishing the tomb would be a huge reminder of it. Thus, for these reasons (plus my own personal speculations) it was never fully completed. As I mentioned before, bits and pieces of it were actually finished, including the large stone sarcophagus adorned with Henry and Jane, the 9 ft bronze candle sticks, and some of the marble statues. However, the remainder of the monument was incomplete. Henry, thus, asked in his will that his tomb be completed.

A drawing of the vault beneath St. George's Chapel, showing
the coffins of Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Charles I, and
an infant of Queen Anne, from the 1813 discovery during William IV's reign.
Edward VI moved to finish the monument, but was unable to in his short reign. Mary did nothing, but Elizabeth did set up a type of committee to survey and see what needed to be done to complete it. However, later in her reign the plan was abandoned. During the English Civil War, what was finished of the monument was taken apart and sold. The effigy of Henry and Jane was melted down, and the large candle sticks made their way to St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent. Charles I's body was quickly placed in Henry and Jane's vault after his execution. Later, an infant of Queen Anne was also placed in the vault. All were left unmarked. It wasn't until William IV's reign that the vault was re-discovered and a plaque (which is what we see today) was added.

Horatio Nelson's Tomb, originally intended for Henry VIII.
To get a sense of what splendor the tomb would have had, one can view a few pieces still surviving today. The large black touchstone sarcophagus was eventually re-purposed for Horatio Nelson, and can been seen in the crypt under St. Paul's Cathedral, while replicas of the 9 ft bronze candlesticks currently adorn the high altar in St. George's Chapel. Though it isn't much, it certainly sparks the imagination. And, as anyone who knows much about Henry VIII would conclude, the monument would have been one of the most beautiful and spectacular in England.

Source: Henry VIII's Tomb via the College of St. George.

Pin It

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Mystery of the Mona Lisa

Arguably one of the most (or perhaps most) famous paintings of all time, the Mona Lisa has captured the imagination of millions since its creation. But why? Certainly, it is a fairly small, simple painting of a lady. Nothing is too revolutionary about it...or is it?

Painted in the early 1500's (some say 1503, others 1516, with a few other dates thrown about) by Leonard Da Vinci, the Mona Lisa is thought to be the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. However, the painting never made it to the family. Rather, Leonardo liked it so much he kept it, using it as a piece of propaganda in his travels, as a way to show potential clients what he could do.

 King Francois I bought the painting from Leonardo's assistant after his master's death, and hung it at Fontainebleau. Courtiers marveled at it. Contemporary sources were talking about the lady's mysterious smile even at this point. Mona Lisa was already becoming quite famous. in the 1600's, the Duke of Buckingham attempted to buy the painting. However, the King of France was begged by his subjects to not sell France's most valuable treasure. The Mona Lisa survived the Revolution and even had a short stay in Napoleon's bedroom before becoming a permanent fixture at the Louvre.

The Mona Lisa was quite revolutionary for its time. The use of light, color, and detail are unprecedented. Many paintings up until this point were colored drawings. Leonardo, however, perfected the sfumanto method of painting. There are no harsh outlines as before, but full strokes of paint, blended together to enhance light and color. Leonardo's paint strokes appear to be "invisible." Some researchers say he used a magnifying glass and painted strokes smaller than a pin head. Others say he layered paint upon paint, taking days to finish tiny sections of the painting.

Leonardo also slightly off-centered the lady's eyes and hands, causing an almost 3D affect which had yet to be seen. Mona Lisa appeared to be alive. According to Giorgio Vasari (1550), "As art may imitate nature, she does not appear to be painted, but truly of flesh and blood. On looking closely at the pit of her throat, one could swear that the pulses were beating."

Despite many today asking why the Mona Lisa is so famous, as it doesn't appear to be revolutionary, one must keep in mind that, in fact, it is. Louvre Curator Jean-Pierre Cuzin stated that, "The entire history of portraiture afterwards depends on the Mona Lisa. If you look at all the other portrait - not only of the Italian Renaissance, but also of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries...all of them were inspired by this painting. Thus, it is sort of the root, almost, of occidental portrait painting."

References from: The Mona Lisa: History's Most Famous Painting by Donald Sassoon.
Pin It