Monday, 10 September 2012

A day at Court

On another breathtaking London day we made our way to Hampton Court Palace to see the wealth of tapestries housed there. I had tried to organise a viewing of the tapestry conservation studio but that was not possible due to their heavy work load. Instead we had a charming guide, Siobhan Clark, who took us around the palace to see the the tapestries in the context of the building and its history.

The most famous suite, The Story of Abraham, was commissioned by Henry VIII and ten tapestries was completed in Brussels around 1543 in the workshop of Willem Pannemaker after designs by Pieter van Elst. They depict scenes from the life of the prophet Abraham drawn from Genesis, chapters 12 - 24.

It is believed that Henry may have used the story of Abraham's Covenant with God as a way of legitimising his own rule following his break with the Roman Catholic church in 1530 to reinforce his own direct God given right to establish the Church of England. In addition, the symbolic passing of Abraham's rights to his son Isaac became a metaphor for succession of the Tudor dynasty from Henry to his son Edward. His collection of over 2,000 tapestries were used as a great display of wealth and power and sent a strong political message to foreign visitors to the Court. A hundred years after Henry's  death the Abraham suite alone was valued at over 8,000 pounds.

Later they were used by generations of kings as a backdrop to their coronations at Westminster Abbey and were often paraded through the streets in processions. The richness of their design and use of silk and gilt metal- wrapped thread made them appropriately splendid for these occasions. When Queen Victoria opened Hampton Court Palace to the public they found their permanent display in the Great Hall and recent conservation has restored their full glory.

Tapestry details                                                                                                            

The vast palace was originally built in the Tudor style and developed by Cardinal Wolsey from 1514, then added to in the Baroque style by Christopher Wren who transformed the east and south facades in the late 1600s for William 111 and Mary 11. It has quite a schizophrenic appearance, the grand style of Wren pasted on top of the more utilitarian red brick foundations of its original form. Every space is, nevertheless, imposing in dimension and grandeur.

After viewing the interior we had lunch in an open air cafe that sits at the end of a large, walled rose garden. The roses were a little past their prime but their scent was overwhelming.

Views of the Palace

A sun drenched stroll through the extensive gardens was the last pleasure that awaited us. We made our way through a succession of sculptured, contained spaces - the Knot Garden, the Privy Garden and the Pond Garden towards the Great Vine, a hefty thatch of leaf and fruit that was planted by Capability Brown in 1768. It was fairly dripping with plump, purple grapes that are sold in the various shops on site.

Garden views

And somewhere in the vicinity of his Great Fountain Garden we caught up with the great man himself, wide of girth and keen of eye with much to say to his attentive subjects!


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