Posts Tagged ‘Charles II’

The Eye is the Window to the Soul

July 17, 2016

Charles looks out at passers-by who only pause, “how strange,” before moving on.  It isn’t Charles’ fault.  He was painted that way.  Of all the commemorative delftware plates on all the museum shelves all the world over, this is one of those select few bizarre portraits with eyes blatantly, even intentionally, off kilter.

King Charles II of England wasn’t the only one to get this strange eye treatment.  It is occasionally found on delftware plates depicting all the last Stuart monarchs from Charles II, to James II, to Mary, and finally Anne, along with the first Hanoverian King George I just after her.  But, curiously, no other gentry portrait plates, nor royalty images on forms other than plates, include such odd eyes.  Books and magazines are silent about this ‘royal treatment.’  This is a job for the experts.

A museum curator explained most of these plates originated in Holland, where Mary and her Dutch co-Regent William of Orange were quite popular.  A collector counter-claimed that most, if not all, of these plates came from Bristol.  But why the eyes?  Another curator mused, “Were the potters trying to ‘show perspective’ by slanting the eyes?”  Even the experts admit being flummoxed.

Worried that my query might fizzle out into suggestions and ‘what-if’s,’ I turned to that ultimate arbiter of wisdom – Facebook:

“I was reading just yesterday about Mary’s death, and then William’s, and then about Anne’s succession, and her sad life losing 16 children…I think that Mary was unkind to Anne. I get the feeling this potter did not like Mary,” posted a fellow interlocutor.

Maybe the potter didn’t like Mary (Mary certainly didn’t like her sister Anne).  And maybe other potters didn’t like Charles (the puritans didn’t), or James (not many people at all liked James), or Anne (an important patron of the arts who struggled to be liked), or George (who, being a king of a whole new line, had his own share of troubles).

Are we left clinging to the slippery slope of 17th and 18th century English royalty popularity contests?  Or do we just admit the limits of worn out cliches when studying human nature.

I look at Charles, and Charles looks back.  The potter who painted him remains opaque.  I continue looking…

Eyes Charles

Readings:

Queen Anne, Patroness of Arts.  James Anderson Wynn.  Oxford University Press/London.  2014.

Delftware at Historic Deerfield, 1600 – 1800.  Amanda Lange.  Historic Deerfield Inc./Deerfield MA.  2001.

English Delftware.  F. H. Garner.  Faber and Faber/London.  1972.

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The Execution of Charles Stuart

August 21, 2009

I am, like many, awed by the talent of Thomas Toft (active 1671 to  1689).  His slipware dishes trace both complicated imagery, and unique perspectives of English history…

Charles in the Oak…so I will start this story a few years earlier, at 2:00pm on Jan. 29, 1649.  Charles Stuart had just ascended the scaffold erected for him in the Banquet Hall of Whitehall, London.  Had he not previously decided that he, as Charles I the King of England, could do no wrong, he might not have angered Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan “Roundheads” to revolt.

The Puritans meant well, but their Commonwealth was a dreary place.  They frowned upon idolatry and frivolous displays of art.  Had they not been so pious, perhaps Toft would not have found a market for his work after their fall.  (Nor, perhaps, would the North American Colonies have been neglected long enough for, as some believe, seeds of independence to be sown.)

Royalists saw their chance when Cromwell died suddenly in 1658.  In 1661 they brought a surprised and grateful son of Charles I to the throne.  Earlier, Charles II had escaped the Roundheads by hiding in an oak tree.  Now, the “Merry Monarch” preferred  parties over revenge.  But his royalist followers wanted blood.  As many Commonwealth leaders as they could round up were drawn and quartered (hung and hacked to pieces).

But the arts flourished.  Decoration was in!  And so was a new drink, coffee.  Imagine the situation; wired on caffeine, no longer constrained by pious dictates, and finally able to decorate to your heart’s content.  This was Toft’s world.

A question comes to mind.  Was Toft as royalist to the bone as his imagery suggests?  What did he think about the butchery following Charles II’s restoration?  Was revenge as important as that first cup in the morning?  Perhaps these questions shouldn’t interfere with our appreciation of his work any more than acknowledging Renoir’s reactionary politics vis á vis the Paris Commune of 1881.  But it does add a curve or two.

Readings:
English Slipware Dishes 1650 – 1850. Ronald Cooper.  Transatlantic Arts/New York.  1968.

The Regicide Brief.  Geoffrey Robertson.  Pantheon Books/New York.  2005.