Tudor dress and embroidery

ElizabethI took the opportunity last week to visit the National Portrait Gallery to see Elizabeth I and Her People.   The added incentive was to catch the short-term exhibition of the finalists’ canvases from the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year competition. I was hooked by this programme from the start. Each artist approached the blank canvas in their own way – so many different styles and processes. I’ve never watched skilled painters working before and it was totally fascinating. And my favourite artist won!

Detail of portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, National Portrait Gallery

Detail of portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, National Portrait Gallery

The Tudor paintings were amazing, so much more vivid and detailed than I had expected from having seen many of them in print over the years. Of course the scale is different, so you do see more but the intensity of the colours and the delicacy of the brushwork brought the costumes, if not always the sitters, to life. Indeed I came away with the sense that the ‘portraits’ were more of the clothes than the people in many cases. Dress, and its extravagance, was crucially important to the hierarchy-conscious Elizabethans. Royal robes in particular seemed designed to bear the  weight of as many jewels as possible and offer broad surfaces for the display of exquisite embroidery. Wonderful.