The exhibition Les Tudors at the Musée du Luxembourg is all over the place. The curatorial discourse is slightly convoluted, but I almost didn't care because wow are the artworks exceptional. I was captivated by the elaborately depicted outfits worn by the subjects of the portraits. Brocade, bows, gems, feathers, lace, pearls, silks... The fashion is the (unintended) star of the show.
The Tudors knew how to decorate themselves.
The exhibition is messy. It claims that its aim is to show how the Tudors represented themselves and how these representations were appropriated by posterity. While the selection of artworks supported these points (with many loans from the National Portrait Gallery in London), the interpretation did not relay this information clearly to the visitor. This seemed to be partly due to the fact that much energy was spent on explaining the genealogy and history of the dynasty. With all of this information swirling through the head of the visitor, a rudimentary knowledge of the Tudors is essential (I found myself thinking back to my middle school memorization of the order of Henry VIII’s wives…).
Another irksome point was the audio commentary. I downloaded the mobile app because I thought that the standard English accent of the narrator would be a nice texture to add to the English portraiture. But I was disappointed (and slightly scandalized) to hear the first narrator’s Australian accent, followed by the second one’s Irish accent.
The Armada Portrait
Can we please take a moment to reflect on this outfit?
This portrait of Elizabeth I, known as The Armada Portrait, celebrates England's victory against the Armada. She is depicted in front of a sea scene in the upper lefthand corner.
I could not get over her gown. Covered with ribbons, pearls, gemstones, gold thread, stiff lace and impossibly puffy sleeves, it is a confection, a fantasy, a dream. I spent quite a bit of time in front of this portrait, trying to take in all the details.
I could imagine having this life-size portrait of Catherine Parr in my home.
I was struck by the geometrical forms, the idealized face, the contrast between the figure and the blue background, and the queen's serenity. There was something mesmerizing about this painting that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I enjoyed spending time gazing at it and getting lost in its balanced perfection.
Catherine Parr was the only one of Henry VIII's six wives to survive him.
The ladies were not the only ones to be decked out in magnificent garments.
Perhaps my favorite gentleman's attire was that of Prince Hercule-François, Duc d'Alençon (pictured below). His mother, Queen Catherine de' Medici, sent him to Elizabeth's court to woo the English queen, who was 22 years his senior. Even though they seemed to enjoy each other's company (she called him 'my frog'), the courting did not come into fruition.
When I saw the manner in which he was wearing his hat and the self-assured (and slightly grumpy) look on his face, I recognized him immediately as the ancestor of certain parisiens I cross paths with on a daily basis.
At the entrance of the exhibition, there is a photo booth where you can have your likeness transformed into a Tudor portrait. It is free to email the resulting portrait and five euros to have it printed on the spot.
The author as Queen Elizabeth:
Les Tudors at the Musée du Luxembourg (until July 19, 2015)
Address: 19 Rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris ∣ Métro: Saint-Sulpice (line 4) or Mabillon (line 10) ∣ Opening hours: Every day from 10am to 7pm, open until 10pm on Monday