Tudor melancholy in the garden

I was inspired by yesterday's news that scholars think that they have discovered the first known portrait of William Shakespeare painted during his lifetime to recall the melancholy men of Tudor portraiture. I have had a thing for Elizabethan portraiture and the symbolically rich gardens of the Tudor period since I read Sir Roy Strong's excellent The Renaissance Garden in England (Thames & Hudson, 1998). Out-of-print copies are inexpensive if you don't have it.

Sir Roy felt that a feeling of pleasurable calm and poetic sadness had a strong visual effect on the English garden of the 17th century. He wrote, "the attributes of melancholy [one of the four humors of the day] became an indispensable adjunct of any Renaissance man with artistic or intellectual pretensions...Such men seek the shade of a greenwood tree and not the walks of a formal garden." Sounds like the bearded, nostalgically folk-singing hipsters of today...

The midsummer ennui expressed by these Tudor portraits seems particularly attractive these days when any afternoon spent outdoors free of iphones and blackberries is a true rarity.

Miniature of Lord Herbert of Cherbury by Nicholas Hilliard
The classic pose—head resting on elbow

Melancholic Man by Isaac Oliver
Gloves draped at his side—formal garden in the distance.


Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland by Nicholas Hilliard
Sweet looking book with ribbon—one glove

Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland by Nicholas Hilliard, c 1594
Book, hat, and two gloves tossed to the side


If you would like to see a 17th-century English garden, then visit Ham House just outside of London in Richmond. The circa 1671 garden, almost modern in its simple geometry, and the marvelous, famously haunted house both exist in a relatively authentic state because of the fact that the property was in one family until it was given to the National Trust in the 1940s. 

There are lots of reports of supernatural occurences around the creaky house filled with the scent of wood polish, but the primary ghost seems to be Elizabeth Maitland, Duchess of Lauderdale (1626-1698), below left, an alleged spy, general conniver, and rumored murderess. Her life would make a great film, not starring Keira Knightley.


Pleached tunnel at Ham House, Richmond

Ham House, Richmond seen over the parterre garden

Parterre garden of clipped boxwood and balls of santolina and lavender

The Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale

1 comment:

Ruthie said...

Wonderfully informative (and beautiful!)