Kings and Queens in the Garden

I’ve been reading an odd little book titled Queen Elizabeth in the Garden. A Story of Love, Rivalry, and Spectacular Gardens by Trea Martyn which recounts the political/botanical rivalry between Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester and William Cecil, Lord Burghley, to win the favor of Queen Elizabeth I by out-gardening one another. Queen Elizabeth did love her gardens, that is certain, and I suppose lavish landscaping might have been one avenue towards favorite status, but the book also references images of Elizabeth in the garden, some with which I was familiar, others not. This got me thinking about images of other monarchs in their gardens, and wondering about the point of this particular type of projection. We still like to see monarchs, and other leaders (the White House Rose Garden!) in a pastoral setting: why? Is it the age-old mastery of nature thing or just aesthetics? I suppose it matters what they are doing: Queen Elizabeth II seems to enjoy walking around engaging with the roses, while our presidents use them as a mere backdrop for important announcements. My favorite king-in-the-garden painting is of Charles II accepting a native-grown (but still exotic) pineapple from the royal gardener, John Wise, who is appropriately kneeling as he bears the fruit of his labors. The message seems clear here, but the accessible Charles is clad in the equivalent of “street clothes”, adding interest and intimacy to the painting. Most likely it was a memorial painting for Wise, who died in the same year it was painted, 1677. The “pineapple painting”, along with many other examples of horticultural art, is included (conveniently) in the current exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace:  Painting Paradise: the Art of the Garden,along with paintings of HR Emperor Elector Wilhelm I and his family in their classical garden (1791) and a the 1897 Jubilee Garden Party with Queen Victoria and Princess Alexandra in attendance.

Garden King Charles

Garden Elector Wilhelm

Garden Party Buckingham Palace

British School, Charles II Presented with a Pineapple, c. 1675-80; Wilhelm Böttner,Wilhelm IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, later Elector Wilhelm I, his wife, Wilhelmine Caroline and their children, Wilhelm, Friederika and Caroline; Laurits Regner Tuxen, The Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, 28 June 1897, all Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2015.

The imperial garden party image could date from this year or last, with updated clothes and Queen Elizabeth II and Duchess Kate standing in for Victoria and Alexandra, even though Great Britain is no longer a true global empire. But we would want a close-up, perhaps like that taken of Victoria and her family in the garden of Osborne House a bit earlier. And as for Elizabeth (I), we have two garden paintings which present contrasting images, one featuring a very relaxed queen at Kenilworth (her back to us!) with Leicester and another more formal, symbolic projection of Elizabeth the Peacemaker, olive branch in hand and sword at her feet. In one painting she is in the garden, of the garden, in the other, it serves merely as a backdrop for a working Queen.

Victoria in the Garden photograph

Hals Detail

Elizabeth Peace Portrait

Detail of a photogravure of Queen Victoria at Osborne House, 1890 (b/w photo), English Photographer, (19th century) / Private Collection / The Stapleton Collection / Bridgeman Images; Dirck Hals, Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester at Kenilworth (detail), early seventeenth century,  Royal Cornwall Museum; Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, The Peace Portrait of Elizabeth I (also call The Welbeck or Wanstead Portrait), between 1580-85, private collection.

7 responses to “Kings and Queens in the Garden

  • ninacohenenski

    Monarchs in gardens is a topical topic even without a single butterfly. What elegant images. My favorite is the Elizabethan scene, and what I love about the Franz Hals is first the liveliness of his bodies and next the rendering of a complete social picture. You sense the fun and flirtatiousness, and you remember how much they admired the well turned leg (on a man, of course) and the elegant hand. Elizabeth’s informality with her circle of favorites is endearing, and her persuasiveness a part of her puissance.

  • Peg

    In that last portrait, is that an Affenpinscher at Elizabeth I’s feet? Even though google isn’t showing one with that coloring I know that they exist because my mother had one. They’re happy, gregarious dogs. I read somewhere a long time ago that they were often a dog of royal courts because of their fun and entertaining nature.They were also called Monkey Dogs.

  • Pamela

    Thank you for bringing the Trea Martyn book to my attention.
    You are spot on wondering about ‘this type of projection’ with regard to monarchs and their gardens – at least as expressed in official portraits. Landscape, and the garden, is a cultural construct, an aesthetic expressing our relationship to nature and the social and political ideals du temps.
    So even as ‘background,’ the landscape in a portrait is carefully composed to convey the value system of the subject. I wonder who is represented behind Elizabeth in her medieval garden? Perhaps the players in her ‘peaceful’ negotiation? The classical temple set in the picturesque landscape behind Wilhelm Elect I – humanism! a family relaxing in relative intimacy with ‘nature’…. ! Behind Charles II – Patron of science, horticulture, botanizing and architecture (Wren..?) – his (preferred) legacy is all there…. It would be informative if the exhibit curators actually pointed out the symbolic and cultural ideas expressed by landscape depiction in the paintings – I found it odd that the focus of the description of Charles II accepting the pineapple focused on his clothes, and not the incredible story revealed by the landscape setting.

    • daseger

      I think our interest is a bit more on the people while the curators of the exhibit are more focused on the gardens, Pam (except for Charles’ clothes!). I would be interested in your take on the Martyn book.

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