“Context is everything.”
(Peter Drucker, business management consultant, social ecologist and “the man who invented management” in the modern era of complexity, according to Business Week of which I’m not a regular reader.)
This blog advocates frivolity, and revels in images, especially of dead queens, at the same time it sniffs at celebrity photos, selfies and Hello! wedding photos.
So here it presents, in full consciousness of double standards, a stupendous piece of self-advertizing by a grandiose, self-made English politician, and patron of the arts, who hired one of the most gifted court propagandists of any age, Van Dyck, to sell his materially advantageous marriage to a higher-born aristocrat, the daughter of an earl, as a divine union featuring groom and bride half-naked, flaunting everything except their genitalia.
Anthony van Dyck Sir George Villiers and Lady Katherine Manners as Adonis and Venus c. 1620. Oil on canvas Private collection. Image WGA
The curly-haired hunk was the King’s favourite (a multi-nuanced term in this case because the king, a neurotic intellectual who’d had a seriously dysfunctional childhood, was gay and vulnerable to handsome, unscrupulous young men who played him along in exchange for office and titles), and chief minister, George Villiers, later created Duke of Buckingham.
He was the most powerful man in the kingdom during two reigns until his assassination eight years after this portrait was painted, and was later immortalized as a guest star of The Three Musketeers.
In real life, James’ son, Charles I, was as emotionally and politically dependent on Buckingham as his father had been. Intuitively serving two masters in different ways, Buckingham was their homme fatale, fulfilling their personal needs while alienating the nations they governed, a gorgeous psychological prop and political liability.
Portrayed in Van Dyck’s allegory when he was twenty-eight, he plays his amorous part to perfection, enjoying the adoration of his hound and his blue drapery being wafted by zephyrs while he ogles his prey, but Lady Katherine looks coy, even startled, about her classical role, as if she’d rather be fully dressed at a jolly lunch party than sporting with pagan gods, all for the sake of her husband proving to the world that she wasn’t his beard.