Ludicrous or lucid? Medieval costumes and royal politics in mid-nineteenth century Britain
By Ian Hunter
VIDES: MLA Volume of Interdisciplinary Essays, Volume 1 (2013)
Abstract: This paper explores the motivation and impact of the use of medieval imagery on the notion of nineteenth century queenship by examination of Sir Edward Landseer’s painting, the 1842 Bal Costumé portrait, and a 1867 group statue ‘The Parting,’ by William Theed. The painting presents Victoria and Albert in formal thirteenth-century costume, the memorial statue portrays the couple dressed in ninth-century Anglo-Saxon clothing. This paper explains how what may initially appear to be ludicrous anachronistic representations of the royal couple can be explained as a lucid attempt to manipulation the symbolic image of Victoria as a wife, mother and head of state. This paper also explores how the use of chivalric medieval iconography, particularly of a Germanic nature, bolstered the position of Prince Albert as consort and husband.
Introduction: The two artefacts discussed here are Sir Edward Landseer’s (1802-73) Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1842, oil on canvas, known as the Bal Costumé portrait, which presents the royal couple in formal thirteen-century court dress and, The Parting, 1867, in marble by William Theed (1804-91), which shows Victoria and Albert in ninth-century Anglo-Saxon clothing.
This paper explores the use of what, at first glance, might appear to be anachronistic and ludicrous medieval imagery on the Victorian concept of queenship. It highlights how Victoria and her advisors used medieval motifs to address contemporary concerns in a manner that helped mould public perceptions of the monarchy, and in particular reframe Albert’s role and relationship to his wife, and confirm Victoria’s triple role as head of state, wife and mother.