Dhe Metropolitan Museum in New York has long been concerned with the self-portrayal of early modern ruling families in Europe. A good two years ago it showed an exhibition about the Medici in Florence and Rome, with which Keith Christiansen, himself something of a prince of the Met, said goodbye after 43 years of service.
Now the museum is devoting an even larger show to the English Tudor dynasty. Because while “The Medici – Portraits and Politics” traditionally focused on painted depictions of rulers, “The Tudors – Art and Majesty in Renaissance England” strives for a more complex investigation that takes into account a variety of media, such as carpets, crockery, designs for tombs , armor and clothing, but also lists of New Year’s gifts, astrological books and family trees. This illustrates the enormous efforts made by the Tudors at all levels to legitimize their occupation of the English throne at home and abroad.
This pressure to justify felt not only Henry VII. conquered, but also his descendants, notably Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. That is why the Tudors put so much energy into constructing a prestigious lineage, as exemplified by the family trees featured in the Met, which trace the family through King Arthur to Brutus, the future “King of the Britons” expelled from Troy.
Expensive carpets: Raphael’s tapestries were four times more expensive than Michelangelo’s Sistine frescoes
So it is significant in many ways that one of Henry VII’s first acquisitions was an old Flemish tapestry cycle depicting the story of Troy. In art history and in museums, carpets lead a shadowy existence, but the enormous financial costs associated with them should make their real importance clear. For example, the ten carpets designed by Raphael for the Sistine Chapel cost four times as much as Michelangelo’s entire decoration.
In addition, itinerant royal families liked to take them with them as mobile decorations on trips. So carpets had royal connotations, and it was only right for Henry that other ruling houses already had copies of the Troy cycle, because he could put himself on a par with Charles the Bold and Charles VIII. The old-fashioned style of the carpets also suited Henry well, helping him create a fictitious Tudor tradition. For this reason, there are always archaic depictions and references to long-gone knight sagas in the exhibition.
Art was used extensively by the Tudors for propaganda purposes, particularly in the case of Henry VIII, who was actually quite frugal but spent huge sums on his castles, chapels, churches and pictures. However, Heinrich also had a lot of work to do, as he not only had to legitimize his six marriages, but also the break with the Pope, while at the same time distancing himself from the Protestants. The Met boasts some of the famous Holbein paintings and drawings here, which alone make the exhibition worth visiting.