The transmission of artistic conventions/visual vocabulary in Tudor portraits
Tania String, Bristol University
Making Art in Tudor Britain
Abstracts from Academic Workshops (2007-8)
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council
My paper was concerned with the transmission of artistic conventions within the visual vocabulary of early Tudor portraiture, in particular, the significance of conventions within copies of portraits - which by extension enables us to consider the status of copies in this period and their communicative value. I asked the question, what was a copy a copy of? Where did it stand in relation to its original? To what extent can we identify the repeated use of intelligible artistic motifs within copies that form part of the communication between artist and viewer? That is, did the artist deploy particular conventions in order to make his work accessible to its anticipated recipients, and what are the consequences of these illocutionary conventions for the form and content of copies? We found that an exploration of these questions in the context of earlier sixteenth-century portraits, principally of King Henry VIII, points to an active exchange of models and motifs back and forth across the North Sea between England and the Low Countries.
King Henry VIII
by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
We demonstrated that these images of Henry bear an intriguing similarity to a portrait of Henry VIII by the Flemish artist Joos van Cleve (c.1481- after 1541). However, unlike our panels, this accomplished portraitist always correctly painted the cast shadows. In each case the shadow has a compositional value, but its anti-naturalistic quality in the Anglo-Flemish panels means that it has a discrete presence within the diegetic space. The vacuity of the shadow, with its free floating, detached quality, perhaps says something about the mechanics of production: was there a pattern which allowed the artist to simply map a shadow onto these panels? What is also different is the attention paid by the artist or artists of the NPG and Society of Antiquaries panels to Henry's portrait features. While the details are somewhat clumsily rendered, there is far more concern with likeness here than in the Joos van Cleve portrait. So what, then, is the possible relationship between these works? Is there the possibility that the artists of the NPG and Society of Antiquaries panels knew of Joos's portrait? Had they perhaps seen it in England or in the Netherlands? Or was there a now lost work, which combined a knowledge of Henry's likeness with Flemish portrait conventions, that links these panels? The precise interrelationships remain unclear, but there is evidence for a nexus of borrowings and derivations criss-crossing the North Sea. This material provides an opportunity to look further into works by unknown artists, and to explore questions about the nature of copying, its modalities, its international quality, the market for copies and the expectations of what a copy should contain in relation to its original or prototype.