Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Queen Mum

September 3, 2010 · 1 Comment

I can agree with Jessica that most paintings in the National Portrait Gallery are of men. I didn’t expect anything else – for most of history, or at least the history that’s been recorded, men have called the shots. But I was most drawn to the portraits of Stuart queens and princesses. For one thing, they looked more real than the Tudor portraits – I can’t imagine a real person looking anything like the portraits of Elizabeth I, for example. But I can imagine Queen Anne. She looks like I could reach out and touch her. The painting of her that I found the most compelling looks like this:


Queen Anne

I know a lot of this might have to do with fashion, but the Snow-White complexion, the sensual folds and materials of her gown, the emphasis on her… curves… even the placement of her hand all suggested to me a kind of softness, maternity, fertility. I can’t believe a monarch would allow herself to be presented in such vulnerability. She doesn’t look intimidating or powerful. She looks nurturing.

The caption below the portrait tells us that she was the younger sister of Mary, Princess of Orange, and that she experienced eighteen pregnancies without ever raising a child to adulthood. So this means that by the time this portrait was taken, in 1705, Anne had seen her father deposed and replaced by her sister. Her sister and brother-in-law had died. She had buried eighteen children. And then she had become one of the most powerful people in the world. I have to think you can see some of the grief she’s suffered on her face.

The portrait spoke to me because, I think, it made Anne someone real, someone for whom my heart can break. I generally don’t like the Tudor and Stuart era of British history because it seems like so many names and dates and Roman numerals and unnecessary bloodshed over highfalutin theological issues. But the women in this section of the museum brought it alive for me. Look at the resemblance between Mary of Modena, the queen of James II, and Mary of Orange, her daughter:


Mary of Modena

Queen Mary II


Different painters, different decades, and they could be twins.  I wonder how Mom felt about Mary and her husband replacing James. If it weren’t for the obvious likeness in the portraits, I might never even have asked myself that question. I mean, most moms would be upset if their daughters forgot a birthday. The paintings of men in the gallery, were, for some reason, less evocative for me. I didn’t wonder how James felt about Mary’s role in the Glorious Revolution. Call me sexist, but this was my favorite part of the museum.

Categories: 2010 MaryKate · Museums

1 response so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 3rd 2010 at 16:02

    I don’t see anything sexist about your comments. We all have aesthetic preferences. I too, and many others likely, are drawn to the queens because the clothing and settings are often more inviting than those of kings. Make sure to use tags and give credits for the paintings.

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