Saturday, October 15, 2011

Waterloo -- making the point

Last weekend I was in Windsor for the first time. (It was a family engagement, arranged more than a year ago, so sadly it had to take precedence over the RNA Regency Day in London. The Regency Day was fantastic, so I hear. But so was Windsor.)

I hadn't visited the castle before and I was totally bowled over by the Queen's picture collection. As I made my way through the state and semi-state apartments, I kept coming up against huge portraits that I'd only seen in books, or on TV programmes. Like that famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth I as a thirteen-year-old girl, dressed in a stunning red gown. At the other end of that same wall was her father, looking cold and menacing.

For me, the highlight was the Waterloo Chamber. It was created by George IV in order to make a statement about the allied victory over Napoleon. George IV commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of all the key people who had combined to defeat Napoleon. (He included himself, naturally!)

The room is huge, and dominated by a portrait of a triumphant Wellington at one end, brandishing the Sword of State. You can see the portrait here and read something about it here.

Around the walls are Lawrence's portraits of the generals, like Bluecher; the rulers, including the famous portraits of Alexander I of Russia, Frederick William III of Prussia, and Francis of Austria. The diplomats who organised the redistribution of Europe at the Congress of Vienna are also there: Castlereagh, Metternich, Hardenberg, Nesselrode, though, as far as I could see, Talleyrand, being French, was not included, even though he played an important part at the Congress.

The portraits can all be seen on the Lawrence pages of the official site for the Royal Collection. The finest of them is supposed to be the portrait of Pope Pius VII, for which Lawrence had to travel to Rome in 1819 for 9 sittings with the Pope.

My only complaint was that visitors were allowed into the ends of the Waterloo Chamber but not the middle, so I couldn't get a really good look at some of the amazing portraits. Next time, I shall take binoculars.

I haven't included jpegs of the pictures. I have a feeling I might be hauled off to the Tower if I did! But if you follow the links, you can see them for yourself.

One interesting tale you might enjoy. When the Queen was entertaining the French President at Windsor, he was treated to a performance of Les Miserables in -- guess where? -- the Waterloo Chamber. And no, they didn't take down the portraits, or change the name of the room. He had to live with it. (Was that also the time that he had to arrive at Waterloo Station? I think it might have been. What a nasty sense of humour the British do have...)



Beebs said...

I watched the documentary 'The Queen's Palaces' hosted by Fiona Bruce. They showed the Waterloo room when they featured Windsor Castle and it did look amazing. The show also featured some of the ornaments bought by George IV and showed how he had them further embellished if there wasn't enough gilt on them. It was fascinating.

SNORT! The French President arriving at Waterloo station and entertained in the Waterloo room. LOL

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Anonymous said...

Nice to see you here, Beebs. I was on holiday when the Fiona Bruce documentary was on. I'm hoping that it will be shown again so that I can see it. (Sadly, I live in the sticks where broadband in incredibly slow and the BBC iPlayer does not work.)

Yes, there's a huge amount of George IV at Windsor. I didn't count, but I had the feeling there were more portraits of him than of any other monarch.

One sad thing. In St George's Chapel Windsor, there is a marble monument to Princess Charlotte, showing her ascending to heaven with her still-born child in the arms of an angel. Just by the memorial, there's a statue of Prince Leopold, her husband. But the written material doesn't explain who he was. It just says he became King of the Belgians. I thought it was touching that he had been placed next to her and sad that most visitors won't understand why.

Beebs said...

Oh that is so sad Joanna.

I hope you do get a chance to see the series, it was very good and fascinating to hear the story behind the various rooms and some of the ornaments, furniture etc. It was amazing to see how they'd refurbished Windsor after the devastation of the fire.

The programme on Holyroodhouse focussed on Queen Mary and Darnley and was also very interesting. I love programmes like this, that give people a chance to see things they might never see otherwise.