Monday, February 18, 2013

Triumph of the Winter Queen

A special exhibition went on view Valentine's Day at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Emerging from renovation for the past 18 months, The Triumph of the Winter Queen, Allegory of the Just, is finally on display. Nearly 10 x 15 feet, the painting was completed in 1636 by Dutchman, Gerrit van Honthorst.

Now. I like art-art. Not art like a purple plastic apple nailed to a slab of balsa wood that is covered with spitballs that supposedly depicts the oppression of Holocaust victims during 1942 in the suburbs surrounding Paris. No. I'm talking about art-art. And if it tells a story, even better. The Triumph of the Winter Queen tells a story. This painting tucks you in, sings you a lullaby and then tells you a story. There is so much going on here.

The painting: before I deface it

Frederick V and Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of England's King James I, were married on Valentine's Day in 1613 and had 13 children together. Frederick V, ruler of parts of Germany, was selected as King of Bohemia (Czech Republic area). Due to the popularity of Roman Catholicism, Frederick (a Protestant) and his family were driven into exile. The Winter King and Queen get their nicknames from the shortness of their reign.

Honthorst (pronounced Hont-horst) was commissioned by Elizabeth to produce a painting of her family. King Frederick V and Frederick Henry were deceased at the time of the painting and are depicted as so. They both hold martyr's palm branches, wear crowns of laurel and are surrounded by heavenly light. Frederick Henry died as a result of drowning, so Neptune, Roman god of water and the sea, is being trampled under the chariot's spiked wheels as a big SCREW YOU.
Elizabeth's youngest son, Gustavus, is depicted as Cupid as he leads the lions that pull the chariot. Cupid is a figure sometimes used in processional images. The youngest daughter, Sophia, is seen hovering, about to place a crown on Elizabeth's head.

Elizabeth's three surviving sons are on horseback, trampling the figures of Death and Envy. Two of the sons are dressed as soldiers, while Charles is depicted wearing regal pelts. This imagery indicates the sons' determination to reclaim the family's lost territories.

The painting is a statement about love, war, exile, separation, and loss. Elizabeth intended to use the painting to affirm her family's right to rule and to convey her belief that they would one day regain their leadership. And they did. By the time Elizabeth died, her son, Charles Louis, reacquired some of their former land. Her daughter, Sophia, had a son who became King George I of England.

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