Arty Monarchs November 21, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Medieval, Modern , trackback
How many rulers can you think of who show a gift for the arts? By this we don’t mean a Charles I or a Cosimo de Medici who could talent spot. Rather Beach is looking for blood-line rulers who were actually good with the paint-brush or with chisel or (taking the broader sense of ‘the arts’) the pen. Beach doesn’t have many lazy afternoons at the moment given various problems with the law (fault of father-in-law). However, he was trying to think of real royal talent on a wait in a lawyer’s office yesterday. Of course, lots of people dabble: Prince Charles (possible future king of England) has exhibited water colours. But which monarchs really stand out among the ranks of the great for their art? This is a very partial list, and for all Beach knows there may be a wikipedia page somewhere. But ignoring legendary material:
Akhenaten of Egypt (obit 1334 BC?): Prayers to the Sun (beautiful sung prayer attributed to the pharoah but who knows…)
Nero of Rome (obit 68 AD): Nero took part with great success in a various acting competitions though it is difficult (as always with Nero) to understand whether his victories came about because of or notwithstanding his office.
Al-Mu’tamid ibn Abbad of Andalusia (obit 1091): Andalus king who wrote celebrated (Arabic) poetry.
Denis I of Portugal (obit 1325): Wrote some very fine troubador poems in the Cantigas de Amigo (obit 1325)
Nezahualcoyotl of Texcoco (obit 1472): Remembered as a poet and there are several poems, which survived in oral tradition, ascribed to him: some doubts over attribution but no question that he was a poet
Lorenzo the Magnificient of Florence (obit 1492): truly outstanding lyric poet
Henry VIII of England (obit 1547): Musician (and by all accounts a gifted dancer before fatness set in)
Elizabeth I of England (1603): fine poet though lost interest as she grew older
A couple of things are worth noting here. First, monarchs’ creativity seems to have been restricted to poetry. There may be monarchs who carved marble or who sketched with charcoal to massive aclaim. But Beach knows nothing about them: for more information or other candidates, drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. Perhaps this had something to do with not getting your hands dirty: work inside and no heavy lifting…? Or perhaps writing poetry is easier than carving a convincing face? That leads us, then, to the point of how good these royal poets really are. The crucial question is surely how many would be conspicous by their absence in national collections and the answer is two. First, we have Lorenzo the Magnificent who appears in every collection of great Italian poetry and second we have Denis of Portugal who stands at the beginning of the Iberian Troubador tradition. The rest are minor figures (in art terms) and Nero almost certainly should not be on the list…
21 Nov 2013: JH writes: Though Nero’s recitals were known to be somewhat long it is said they had quite an impact on his audience leading to rather unusual behaviour such as fake heart attacks, child births, and the leaping from windows. One witness fell asleep during a performance and almost lost the chance to start the Flavian Dynasty. I realize art critics can be cruel and have political axes to grind, but having Madonna, Lady Ga Ga, etc to fall back on perhaps I am lucky indeed! *** Then JR writes: Can I suggest Queen Margrethe of Denmark? A very accomplished painer and illustrator, who drew illustrations for Folio Books edition of Lord of the Rings. From Wikipedia: Margrethe is an accomplished painter, and has held many art shows over the years. Her illustrations—under the pseudonym Ingahild Grathmer—were used for the Danish edition of The Lord of the Rings, which she was encouraged to illustrate in the early 1970s. She sent them to J.R.R. Tolkien who was struck by the similarity of her drawings to his own style. Margrethe’s drawings were redrawn by the British artistEric Fraser in the translation published in 1977 and re-issued in 2002. In 2000, she illustrated Henrik, the Prince Consort’s poetry collectionCantabile. She is also an accomplished translator and is said to have participated in the Danish translation of The Lord of the Rings. Another skill she possesses is costume designing, having designed the costumes for the Royal Danish Ballet‘s production of A Folk Tale and for the 2009 Peter Flinth film, “De vilde svaner” (the Wild Swans). She also designs her own clothes and is known for her colourful and sometimes eccentric clothing choices.*** Thanks JR and JH!
22 Nov 2013: Louis an old friend of the blog writes: Well, it is known that (former) queen Beatrix of the Netherlands is partial to the arts. She makes statues, both in stone and in clay. And, according to some art critics, she is definitely more than just a gifted amateur. This arty streak she probably inherited from her grandmother, queen Wilhelmina. That queen did paintings, and watercolours. She even had a caravan (horse drawn in those days) that she used when going somewhere incognito to paint. However, she would also reserve some rooms in a nearby hotel, as the countess of Buren, one of her lesser titles. That title is still occasionally used by our royals when they want to go somewhere incognito. And Louis XIV, le Roi Soleil, was known for his dancing. He wanted to be, and apparently became (at least for a short time), the best dancer in the kingdom. If this list is also about head of states, then the dreadful moustache from Linz (A.H.) was also a painter, although such a mediocre one that he did not get accepted at the Vienna Art school…. And isn’t there a Japanese princes that wrote the first Japanese novel, somewhere around 600 CA? [not found a reference] *** KMH writes in: Beach, (From Wikipedia:) You probably knew and forgot that Frederick the Great was a gifted musician who played the transverse flute. He composed 100 sonatas for the flute as well as four symphonies. The Hohenfriedberger Marsch, a military march, was supposedly written by Frederick to commemorate his victory in the Battle of Hohenfriedberg during the Second Silesian War. His court musicians included C. P. E. Bach, Johann Joachim Quantz, Carl Heinrich Graun and Franz Benda. A meeting with Johann Sebastian Bach in 1747 in Potsdam led to Bach’s writing The Musical Offering. *** Invisible writes: On monarchs as artists. Under the Medieval/Renaissance-era system, artists were apprenticed at a young age to learn the trade by sweeping the master’s rooms, grinding his colors, and being clouted on the head for a naughty sketch. No monarch would have had the time, let alone the freedom, to spend his/her youth at the nitty gritty learning of what was, after all, a trade like blacksmithing or tailoring. Poetry and music were the expected polite accomplishments of the educated (with sketching and needlework added for the ladies). So it is no wonder that those are the artistic fields where monarchs, if they excel at all, may be found. *** Thanks to Invisible, KMH and Louis!
23 Nov 2013: Louis again ‘While reading my own post, and the one from Invisible, I suddenly remembered that all Turkish Sultans, by tradition, had to learn a trade. And that Suleiman the Lawgiver (better known as “the Magnificent” in europe) was an accomplished gold smith, of whom several pieces have suvived the ages.’ *** April (and Invisible in another email with the same content) writes: I believe — and this is not simply a way of expressing my female superiority — that the 1st novel referred to in your blog was not written by some prince or other… the 1st Japanese novel — or, arguable and more properly, this humble writer thinks, 1st novel in, of, and otherwise the world — was written by Murasaki Shikibu — which, in case you are not up on your Asian studies is a woman’s name — and its title was, is and always will be (in english, at least) The Tale of Genji Just a tiny FYI *** Thanks Invisible, Louis and April!