Monday 12 November 2012

Exhibition review – The Lost Prince, Henry 1594-1612

The book and other related items are available from the
National Portrait Gallery Shop
I recently visited the National Portrait Gallery Exhibition, The Lost Prince: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart (it finishes on the 13th January 2013). For those who cannot get to see the exhibition there is an excellent accompanying book and catalogue by the curator Catherine MacLeod.

For those who are uncertain who this was, Henry Prince of Wales was the elder son of King James VI of Scotland and I of England, and his wife Anne of Denmark. As the exhibition says when James succeeded Elizabeth in 1603 it was the first time in two generations that England had had a “normal” family consisting of the King and Queen and their three children, Henry, Elizabeth and Charles, though the last was considered so sickly he was left behind in Scotland. The exhibition is an assessment of the life of Henry, who died at the age of 18 some 400 years ago this month.
The exhibition is divided into six sections with a wealth of paintings, some of which have not been seen in public before. I have included links to copies of a few of the paintings that are in the exhibition.

The first section deals with the family and includes paintings by John de Critz and Robert Peake who (from 1607 until Peake’s death in 1619) were jointly Serjeant-Painter to James. Here are paintings of all the members of the family, the King and Queen, by de Critz and miniatures of them by Hilliard and Oliver, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Charles by Peake, and several of Henry himself including one of him in his garter robes by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. The most poignant item however is a letter from the nine year old Henry to his mother, assuring her he is in good health.

The second section is about the prince in his own household, which was established at the Palace of Nonsuch. There are paintings of the members of the circle who surrounded the Prince at Nonsuch, and a well known portrait of Henry with a young Earl of Essex (who later commanded the Parlimentary army against his brother King Charles in the Civil War. There has been much argument, based on the image I have linked to, as to whether the collars have a blue starch. The collars on the painting, as seen in the gallery, are white with a very slight caste of green from the doublets underneath. It is an object lesson in not taking the colours that appear in online sources as true.

 The third section is on festivals, masques and tournaments and includes several sketches for masque costume, as well as a very strange portrait of Henry leading Old Father Time by the forelock, two sets of Henry’s armour and several miniatures of Henry in armour.

The fourth section is on Henry’s collecting, and made me wonder if Henry’s collection of paintings and renaissance bronzes influenced his brother’s collecting habit, which has been explored in Jerry Brotton’s book The sale of the late king’s goods.

Henry did not leave the UK, but the fifth section explores his links to the wider world, and his interest in ships. The painting by Adam Willaerts of the Embarkation of the Elector Palatine 1613 is interesting for its depiction of ordinary people standing on the foreshore in the bottom right hand corner. The section also has portraits of his extended family, his uncle Christian IV of Denmark, his brother in law to be Frederick Elector Palatine, his godfather Henri IV of France, and Maurice of Nassau.

The final section deals with Henry’s death on the 6th November 1612, from an illness now recognised to have been typhus. It includes post mortem notes, and a well known portrait of Queen Anne in mourning, but most poignant are the scant remains of the wooden effigy of Henry that was created and dressed in his robes as Prince of Wales and placed on his hearse.

One is inclined to ask what if Henry hadn’t died? What if Charles hadn’t succeeded James I as Charles I? Would we still have had a Civil War? it is a very good exhibition, and if you can’t get to it the book is excellent.

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