Sunday, July 8, 2012

Those Royals: Poor taste in spouses, amazing taste in art

On Sunday, the Palace at Holyroodhouse officially reopened to the public after her majesty’s annual visit. We toured the palace and the adjacent Queen’s Gallery after a morning of laundry (and before we watched the Wimbledon finals).

The site originally contained an abbey, and the ruins of a small portion of that building remain today. It was converted to a royal palace in the early 1500s by James IV of Scotland and continued by his son, James V. The palace later was the home of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her murderous second husband, Lord Darnley. He and several of his “friends” dragged the queen's Italian secretary David Rizzio out of her supper room one night and stabbed him more than 50 times in the queen's outer chamber. I swear there are still blood stains on the floor where the body was found, probably artificially created by a series of industrious housekeepers who used to give tours of the murder scene for extra cash  (all you had to do was knock on the door and hand over the coins). Darnley was later murdered himself, and Mary married the chief suspect in that killing, the Earl of Bothwell. Talk about having poor taste in men.

Mary’s chambers, including the large number of “curiousities” owned or related to the Stuart line showcased there, made the tour worth it.  Holyroodhouse was also the primary home of Mary’s son, James VI, who later succeeded Elizabeth and became James I of England. Curiously, James only returned to Scotland once after taking over the English throne.

Adjacent to the palace (though requiring a separate entry fee, of course) is the Queen’s Gallery. It was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002 as part of her Golden Jubilee, to showcase works from the royal collection. This year, it has an exhibit for her Diamond Jubilee, Treasures from the Queen’s Palaces. The exhibit contains 100 pieces from eight palaces collected over five centuries and includes “paintings by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Nash, drawings by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Holbein, and Imperial Easter Eggs by Fabergé.”

A chair made from an oak tree at Waterloo battlefield. It's the tree from which  General Wellington gave his orders. Briton pilgrims to the site later stripped the tree of everything -- branches, twigs and bark -- as souvenirs. And the chair-maker happened to arrive the day before the farmer who owned the land felled the tree. 

Ryan and I had very different favorite pieces. I found this Mosaic Egg by Fabergé to be the most noteworthy piece; all of the jewels are merely held in place by the platinum frame and the way they are cut. It must have taken so much time to create! The jewels are so tiny that one ill-timed sneeze during the process could have misplaced a dozen easily.

Ryan preferred this painting titled Agatha Bas by Rembrandt. He liked how it looked as though she were coming through the paining at you, and the application of the paint to create a three-dimensional texture as well as the detail on the lace and the jewelry. He also like the fact that this was one of the artist's neighbors -- not someone rich, famous or particularly good looking. But Rembrandt painted her in such a vibrant mysterious way to make you pay attention to a "boring" subject.

The list of the other 98 items in the exhibit is available here.

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