Friday, November 25, 2011

Sir Henry and Lady Mary Guildford: The Drawings and Portraits by Hans Holbein

Hans Holbein was, without doubt, one of the greatest artists of both the Renaissance and of the sixteenth century as a whole.  He earned acclaim in Basel, however it was in England, where eventually he settled and died, that he came to prominence and is most well known as painter to the court of one of the nation’s most famous kings, Henry VIII.   His approach to portraiture there was indeed revolutionary, as evidenced from the surviving portraits which have survived, both as preliminary drawings and splendid, final portraits.  Not only did Holbein paint portraits of the Royal Family, but he also painted portraits of members of the Court, allowing a tantalising, fascinating glimpse into the faces and personalities of this turbulent and fascinating period of English history.

Holbein was to make two journeys to England during his life.  The first was made in 1526 when he arrived in the capital in search of work, with a commendation from none other than the acclaimed Humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam.  It was Thomas More who welcomed Holbein to London and commissioned the artist to paint a portrait of him, as well as a group portrait of his family.  More embraced the ideology of Humanism, and this way of thinking was to have a profound influence upon the work of Holbein himself.  England and its court had truly embraced the Renaissance; the  encouragment of learning through the founding of universities, and the court was a splendid forum for poetry, music, art and song, with even the king himself a keen scholar and musician.  In 1527, Holbein returned home to Basel for several years, however he was to come back to England in 1532 and remain until the autumn of 1543, when he died.   His work was influenced by the late Gothic style which was prevalent at the time of his birth as well as the schools of art from Italy, the Netherlands and France, however imbued with an individuality that makes the works entirely his own.  It was during his first visit to England that he painted the husband and wife portrait of Sir Henry Guildford, and his wife, Mary Wooton, Lady Guildford.

Henry Guildford’s family had strong royal connections.  His father, Richard, and grandfather John, had both strong links with Henry VII before he usurped the phone from Richard III.  Both father and son had helped to raise forces against Richard III, which had resulted in their being attainted and losing some of their lands.  Upon Henry’s ascension to the throne in 1485, Richard Guildford was knighted and rewarded for his loyalty by the new king. He was appointed Master of the Treasury and the Ordnance, and had his attainder reversed.   Following an extensive programme of shipbuilding, Sir Richard chose to serve his king at sea, as Henry was planning on invading France, an invasion which never took place.  Following the death of his father, he was named as High Sheriff of Kent.  In 1505, whilst making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Sir Richard fell ill and died.  During his life, Guildford was to marry twice.  His first marriage was to Anne, daughter of John Pympe, by whom he had two sons and four daughters.  His second marriage was to Joan Vaux, by whom he had a further son, Henry.

Guildford’s mother, Joan, had been lady-in-waiting to Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, and the paternal grandmother of Henry VIII.  Upon the death of Lady Beaufort, she became a part of the court of her son, Henry VII, becoming lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth, and Lady Governess to their two daughters, Margaret and Mary.   She accompanied Mary to France upon her marriage to the French king, Louis XII, however Lady Joan appears to have been sent home along with a number of her other English ladies, much to the dismay of the queen.  Despite requests for Joan to return to her service, this was denied, and it seems likely that Joan returned to England where it seems likely she rejoined the royal household and served the queen, Catherine of Aragon.  In return for her service to the king, she was rewarded with two pensions totalling £60. Upon the death of her second husband, Sir Richard having died in 1505 in Jerusalem, it appears she initially retired to a prayer house in Bristol.  Upon the closure of the prayer house in 1536, she returned to London.  She was to outlive her son by six years, finally passing away at the age of seventy-five in 1538. 
The preliminary drawing of Sir Henry Guildford.
Henry Guildford first took the stage when he was chosen by Thomas, Lord Darcy, as his provost-marshal, in leading a crusade against the Moors in North Africa in response to a request made by Ferdinand of Spain, in 1511, for help from England.  The English troops, led by Darcy got as far as Cadiz, only to find out upon their arrival that the planned crusade had been abandoned as a greater danger lurked closer to Spanish shores, as a more serious threat had been posed by the King of France, François I.  Darcy appears to have returned home, whereas Guildford chose to ride to the Ferdinand’s court at Burgos.  The Spanish king appears to have delighted in Guildford’s visit, and knighted hi in the names of Saints James and George, Spain and England respectively, and presented him with an honorary canton for his coat of arms being that of Granada.  This sign of gratitude bestowed upon Guildford by the King of Aragon led to a lifelong loyalty from Guildford towards the then queen of England. Upon his return to England, he was awarded a knighthood by King Henry VIII.

In 1512, he married his first wife, Margaret Bryan, daughter of Sir Thomas Bryan.  It is uncertain for how long he was married to Lady Margaret, however it cannot have been any longer than for thirteen years, as he was to marry Mary Wooton, his second wife, in 1525.  His marriages were both to be childless.  In mid 1512, he was awarded manors in Warwickshire and Lincolnshire by the king.  The following year he was to embark on a voyage across the Channel to France, with an army, to invade France.  Both he and Sir Charles Brandon, Earl of Suffolk and later the king’s brother-in-law, were joint captains of the sovereign, and commanded fleets that crossed into France.  He later attended upon Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520.  He was later saluted by François I as one of ambassador to England when he accompanied Cardinal Wolsey through France in 1529.  The same year, he was called to bear witness to the consummation of the marriage between Catherine of Aragon and of Prince Arthur, her first husband, however he declined on the grounds that he had not yet reached the age of twelve years old.  He also was among the lords and councillors in the Henry’s court who signed the letter to the Pope, asking him to comply with the king’s request for a divorce from Catherine so as to marry Anne Boleyn.
Despite his signing of the letter, he was no favourite of Anne Boleyn.  Indeed he spoke openly about his disapproval of the king’s desire to cast aside Catherine, still his wife, without papal approval ; his views are recorded by Eustace Chapuys, ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire, and opponent to Anne Boleyn whom he named “the Concubine.”  Anne, in her anger, asked that of the king to deprive Sir Henry of his role and rank as Comptroller of the King’ Household, however, undeterred by Anne’s motives and actions, Guildford himself went to the King to offer his resignation of the post.  The king however seems to have valued greatly the loyalty which Guildford had previously shown and advised not to worry what women said, and twice returned him his baton of office.   He remained on the King’s council until his death in 1532.
Sir Henry’s second wife, Mary, born in 1499, was the youngest of the four children of Sir Robert Wooton of Boughton Malherbe, Kent, and Anne Belknap.  Her two brothers, Edward (born 1489) and Nicholas (born c. 1497) were both to attain significant posts within the court of Henry VIII.  Sir Edward was to become Treasurer at Calais, and Nicholas was among the diplomats who arranged the disastrous marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves in 1540.  Her sister, Margaret, was later to become Marchioness of Dorset.  Margaret had first been married to William Medley, and after his death married Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset, in 1509.   Among their children were Henry Grey, who married Frances Brandon, niece of Henry VIII, and later parents to Lady Jane Grey.  A surviving drawing, again by Holbein, shows a likeness between the two sisters. 

Following the death of her husband, Mary Guildford was to remarry soon afterwards.  Her final husband was Gawen Carew, of Devonshire, and the union produced children.  She died three years later, in 1535, and is buried in Exeter Cathedral alongside her second husband in the ornate family tomb.
The final portrait of Sir Henry Guildford.ed
The portraits would appear to have been expensive commissions, owing to tremendous skill and finesse deployed in their execution, combined with the considerable quantity of gold adorning them, such as in Sir Henry’s cloth of gold doublet and the chain underneath; but also used in the elaborate sleeves and chains on the dress of his wife.   Other than the Guildford portraits, the amount of gold in use is only rivalled in quantity by the surviving portraits of the King, his third wife Jane Seymour, and their son, the prince Edward.   

For both sitters, two surviving likenesses survive for both of them.  In both cases, an initial drawing on paper in black and coloured chalks, and the final portraits are painted on wood in oil and tempera.   The  preliminary sketch of Sir Henry Guildford, later inscribed with the name “Harry Guildeford Knight” during the time of Edward VI.  The drawing of Lady Guildford was unnamed.  However, all four likenesses are now scattered, the drawings themselves are to be found in the Royal Library at Windsor, and in the Öffentliche Kunstammlung, Basel respectively; and the paintings in the Royal Collection, again at Windsor, and the St Louis Art Museum in the United States.
The studies, or preparatory drawings, for the final portraits are clearly taken from life.  The drawing of Sir Henry has been cut off above his elbows, and follows the protocol of the day with his view cast towards his wife; facing neither the artist nor the viewer.  In fact, the drawing has been significantly trimmed down at some point in its history, as it is considerably smaller in dimensions to that of it's companion piece.  Furthermore the final portrait shows Sir Henry from the waist upwards.  The drawing of Lady Guildford shows her smiling and glancing sideways in an almost coquettish manner towards her rather sterner, more solemn husband.  A subtle use of red chalk gives a hint of wholesome rosiness to her cheeks, allowing her lower lip to look fuller and more sensual, whilst conveying the expression of a somewhat wistful smile.  In addition,  yellow chalk has been used around the hood as well as for the six gold chains across her bodice.  The drawing displays, to a contemporary observer, a healthy voluptuousness in its subject.  All combined with a certain charm and prettiness not readily apparent in Holbein’s other drawings of members of the court from the time.

The preliminary drawing of Mary Wooton, Lady Guildford.
Lady Guildford is portrayed in typical Tudor, finely made, clothes. Her attire mirrors a full length drawing of an unknown lady in a dress and hood, showing a view from both the front and back.  The sleeves of Lady Guildford's dress are slashed, a highly popular style in the day, and she wears the English gable hood, her hair hidden beneath, rather than the French designed hood.  The so called French hood, became popular in England in the 1530s and thereafter, introduced by the queen, Anne Boleyn.  The French hood was rounded in shape, and revealed some of the hair of its wearer.   The dress worn by Lady Guildford also apparently shows a fault line across her shoulder, perhaps an unfair allusion to denote the lack of issue between the couple.  A homophone or play on words is possibly at work here; the French term insinuating a “fault in the lineage.”  Gold chains adorn her bodice, and a medallion with drop pearls around her neck are all clear signs of status, wealth and prosperity.  Modern observers have suggested that the number of gold chains upon her dress appear rather gauche and somewhat excessive by standards of the day; certainly she wears more so than would have been worn for personal jewellery.  The only other jewellery to be seen are four simple rings on the fingers of her left hand.  Pinned to the top of the bodice of her dress is a sprig of rosemary, drawing attention to the mortality of its wearer and her husband, whilst the appearance of the portraits is to remain unchanged over the years.

As with the sprig of rosemary and the fault line, various motifs and devices are employed within both of the portraits, with alternate, hidden meanings.  Holbein would use devices and homophones in his work, among the most famous being The Ambassadors, painted in 1533.  One of these hidden devices shows the age of Sir Henry as being fifty-four years of age when the painting  was completed.  This device is found in the rings from which the green curtain behind the sitter, hangs.  The rings are neatly divided into three separate groups, one ring hangs alone followed by one cluster of five and a further one of four.  The solitary ring is apparently a play on words; the French word anneau [meaning “ring”] is phonetically similar to the Latin anno [meaning “year”], followed by five and four suggests that this is in reference the sitter being aged fifty four years.  On the piece of parchment above his head is written the year in which the painting was executed i.e. 1527, upon which is written the words Anno D. mcccccxxvii. Estis suæ xl ix. The words Estis suæ xl ix contradict the hidden message in the rings, and suggest that Guildford was only 49 years old at the time of the composition of this painting.   A similar inscription dating the painting occurs on the portrait of Lady Guildford, inscribed upon the column rather than handwritten, with the words ANNO M D XXVII. ÆTATIS XXVII, indicating her age as being 27 years. 
Fixing the parchment to the wall are two spots of red wax, again a play on words for the subtle imagery herein.  The words “deux cires tiennent le parchemin” [Two waxes hold the parchment], can be inflected to sound like “deux Sires tiennent le parchemin” [Two Lords hold the right and title of nobility.]   In his portrait, Sir Henry is also seen wearing various decorations which he had received, celebrating his achievements and of his rank.  He wears the Order of the Garter, and the Cross of St. George.  Furthermore, Guildford is also seen to be wearing a tunic made of golden cloth, perhaps in allusion to his successes at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.  In his hands are two cords of rope.  These cords are showing the important role which he held in the Tudor court, i.e. that of Comptroller of the Royal Exchequer.  The expression of “holding the purse strings” is much the same in French; tenir les cordons de la bourse, and the connotations are evident within the context of this painting.  He also holds the white staff of his office within the royal court, again to reinforce the import of his role and status.

The final, and more solemn, portrait of Lady Guildford.
In respect of the likenesses made of Lady Guildford, the most marked difference is a subtle one, but extremely apparant: her expression.  As mentioned before, in the drawing, a somewhat flirtatious smile crosses her lips, with a rather suggestive glance to the side towards her husband.  In the painting, her glance has been altered and her pupils moved in order to face her viewer. The shape of her lips has also changed, which results in her face now retaining a more solemn and formal appearance.  Her solemnity and piety are shown by the book she holds in her hands, Vita Christi [The Life of Christ]; a popular edition of the life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony available in both England and on the Continent.   Furthering this sense of piety wrapped around her fingers is a rosary , yet more emphasis on the sense of pious devotion accorded by its bearer.  It is uncertain as to whether or not the final portrait would ever have contained the flirtatious smile and the sparkle in Lady Guildford’s eyes, for such a look would be ill suited in the context of holding a devotional religious work, or the rosary.  Moreso, it would have seemed informal in contrast to portraits of her peers and other ladies of the court.

Similar drawings have survived by Holbein of his subjects glancing sideways, one being that of Joan Ashley, Lady Meutas. However, in the case of Lady Meutas, the look appears to give it’s subject a rather bewildered appearance.  The vast majority of Holbein’s surviving drawings have their subjects not facing the artist but to the side; the portrait of Lady Guildford being one of the few exceptions. Only portraits of the King, his son Edward, the portraits of Anne of Cleves, a drawing of an anonymous woman who might be her sister Amelia, and a full length portrait of Christina of Denmark don't appear to conform to this rule. 

Holbein was no stranger to adjusting expressions and appearances to suit the needs and requirements of his sitters, both male and female. In some cases it was simply changing the eye movements or expression, or in others, a "rejuvenation" or slimming of the sitter’s features whilst still retaining an effective, yet flattering, likeness.  This “rejuvenation” is most evident in some of the portraits of the elder sitters, such as that of Lady Butts, whose appearance is significantly older in the preliminary drawing than appears in the final portrait, her features softened to the harsh wrinkles of age.  An infrared spectrogram of the final portrait shows in the under drawing deeper and more pronounced wrinkles, and these were presumably requested to be softened and toned down by either Sir William Butts, the king's physician, or even by Lady Butts herself.

It remains unknown as to whether the portraits were ever joined together in their frames, a practice which was popular and common amongst Flemish artists when painting portraits of married couples. Individual portraits of husbands and wives to be hung separately were unusual.  The two portraits are linked by the same colour scheme to be found on the wall behind them, together with the rail for the curtain running between the two likenesses.  The positioning of their bodies suggest that the couple were initially to be been facing one another, and appear to have been painted in the Guildfords' London home; as similar architectural details to the fashionable column portrayed, were to be found in the hall in ther London home.  The inclusion of the curtain and the column might simply have been artistic license on the part of Holbein, both motifs were previously included in a portrait of Erasmus, painted in 1523.  A possible reasoning also behind the disparity in the portraits was the physical stature of the two sitters; Henry Guildford was evidently a large, powerfully built and strong man, much like his close friend the King; whereas Mary Guildford was probably rather small, buxom and petite.  Sir Henry’s likeness has been somewhat altered in the final portrait, with his face appearing leaner and slightly elongated, possibly to soften and detract from its owner’s rather strong, and bulky stature.    
One of the portraits of Erasmus, using the similar background motifs.
Suggestions have been made that the fig leaves in background to the portraits are intended to convey a covert charged meaning.  It is unusual that the branches and leaves are shown without their bearing any fruit.  A suggestion as to such an absence of the fruit is the reaffirmation that the couple were still childless. However, the inclusion of an image of the fig would possibly have been considered to be taboo, as the fruit and its likeness had apparently overt sexual connotations.  There is a possibility that the fig is in fact the fruit that Eve offered to Adam in the Garden of Eden (rather than the traditionally ascribed apple), owing to its omnipresence in the near East where the Biblical garden is alleged to be located.  In addition the fig had a rather sexual appearance, bearing a resemblance to the vulva.  Indeed, the word “fig” in languages outside of English still carries derisory and/or sexual overtones.  Also fig leaves, once again in allusion to the creation myth in Genesis, are a means of concealment.  This raises the question as to whether or not Holbein was, subconsciously, or through use of such imagery, insulting or mocking his wealthy English patrons.

No comments:

Post a Comment