Saturday, 22 June 2013

"Avenge the Innocent Blood" - The Vendetta Picture in 16th century Scotland (Part 4)

The Darnley Memorial

The most complex, and arguably the most important Vendetta picture is The Darnley Memorial (1568), a large (1321 x 224.2cm) panel, painting in London in January 1568 by Lieven de Vogeleer. Little is known about the artist, except that he seems to have been a member of the Antwerp Guild in 1551. His presence in London at this date suggests that he was one of the many Netherlandish immigrants who fled religious persecution at home to work in London, where refugee churches had been established in 1550. In fact, the date of the painting coincides exactly with the period of the largest influx of refugees from the Netherlands arrived in the capital, as iconoclasm in Antwerp reached its height.

The picture was commissioned by Darnley's parents, the Earl and Countess of Lennox, who were, not surprisingly grief-stricken by the murder of their son. The painting is explicitly dedicated to Prince James in a Latin inscription on the extreme right which gives the date and place of the commission, as well as the purpose of the image; namely, that "he [James] shut not out of his memory the recent atrocious murder of the King his father, until God should avenge it through him". The choice of a foreign artist is not surprising, as foreign artists were generally favoured over local ones for more important commissions. The Lennox family had many English connections, not least Queen Elizabeth herself, as Darnley's mother, Margaret Lennox was in fact her cousin, a niece of Henry VIII. At the time of her son's murder, the Countess was a prisoner (albeit in fairly luxurious circumstances) in the Tower of London, where she had been since 1565 due to Elizabeth's displeasure over the marriage of Darnley and the Queen of Scots, which broke an oath of allegiance to Elizabeth herself. Despite this, relations between Elizabeth and the Lennoxes were generally good, and the Countess was freed on news of the murder, the Queen herself expressing concern over the unsolved crime.

The complex iconography was probably worked out by the Earl and Countess of Lennox who, with their younger son Charles, probably sat for the artist for their portraits  to be included in the painting. Two copies of the painting exist; the original in the Royal Collection at Holyrood Palace, and a copy, probably painted shortly afterwards, which is at Goodwood House. The Goodwood copy is important for deciphering the inscriptions which, in the Royal version have been damaged (probably on the orders of James VI) to remove damning references to Mary, Queen of Scots.

Like the Kirk O' Field drawing, only on a much bigger scale, the Darnley Memorial is a 'history' painting. The main focus of the picture is the effigy of Darnley himself, lying on a tomb, in what is probably supposed to be the interior of the chapel at Holyrood. The picture, like the Kirk O' Field drawing, gives a narrative of the events, though in a far less straightforward way. The circumstances of both the murder and its aftermath are alluded to throughout, while the many Latin inscriptions in the paintings serve to both accuse the murderers and call for revenge, while also reaffirming his status as King of Scotland. Darnley's Royal status was understandably important to the Lennox family pride, but also in order to affirm the legitimacy of James as the future monarch. This wasn't, however, a clear-cut issue. At the time of their marriage Mary had conferred the title 'King of Scots' on her new husband, but after their marriage began to disintegrate in 1565 she had denied him the 'Crown Matrimonial', which allowed he and his heirs legal status to rule in the event of Mary's death. Even after the birth of James, the Crown Matrimonial was not granted to Darnley, and after his murder the Lennoxes felt the need to stress the Royal ancestry of their son and grandson as Mary's situation became more precarious. Royalty is alluded to throughout the painting, in inscriptions, coats of arms, banners and architectural features, notably the unicorns bearing the crown which sit at the head of the effigy.

The largest inscription in the picture, on a painted marble tablet behind the tomb contains "An Heroic Poem upon the Death of the most Excellent Henry, King of Scots", possibly composed by Prince James' tutor George Buchanan, who was vehemently opposed to Mary and her supporters. As well as praising Darnley's qualities and accomplishments and squarely placing the blame for his murder on Mary, this poem stressed the King's Royal heritage, both through his marriage to Mary and independently of it, describing him as "a luminary of the Sacred Line of British Kings." This heritage is strengthened further by the depiction of several banners; those of the Royal House of Scotland, the Saltire and Darnley's own coat of arms.

The scene alludes to the usual surroundings of a Royal funeral, but although Darnley was in fact buried at Holyrood, no ceremony took place and no life size effigy existed. It is clear from the setting as well as the inscriptions that the Lennoxes were bitterly disappointed by the lack of respect shown for their son's body and the undignified way in which his passing was marked. Ironically, the use of a painted memorial actually gave Darnley a distinction he is unlikely to have enjoyed in reality, even in better circumstances. The tomb and effigy are shown directly in line with the high altar, featuring the figure of the risen Christ, extremely rare on post-Reformation tomb monuments, and alluding to Darnley's own Catholicism. This arrangement places the King in a liturgically important position relatively unheard of in Protestant Europe.

The kneeling donors are in the tradition of Flemish donor portraits of the 15th century, perhaps alluding the famous Royal altarpiece painted for James III by Hugo van der Goes, stressing the continuity of the Scottish crown as embodied by Darnley. The artist's Netherlandish origins are revealed in the skilful portraits and sensitively clasped hands of the Earl and Countess, although the stiffness of the poses suggests that they sat for facial portraits only, but at the same time their static quality heightens the sense of a solemn, ceremonial event.

If the Royal status of Henry was arguable, that of Mary was not, and the most important aspect of the painting is the call for vengeance against the slayers of the King, most prominently the Queen herself. A close inspection of the picture reveals the strong anti-Marian bias very clearly. As with the Royal imagery, the defamation of the Queen appears in both pictorial and written form. On the side of the bier upon which Darnley's effigy rests are two trompe l'oeil carved reliefs. The left roundel depicts Darnley and his servant William Taylor being dragged from their beds at Kirk O' Field and has an inscription reading "caedis dicti regis et servi sui in lectis"  ["the murder of the king and servant in their beds"]. The right shows the bodies lying in the orchard with an inscription reading "post caedem in horto reperiutur prostrate" ["After the murder found prostrate in the garden"].

Below in the left foreground, an inset scene, painted as though it is a framed picture restng against the picture plain, shows the battle of Carberry Hill, painted as a somewhat archaic Flemish landscape.


The confederate troops prominently bear the Darnley Banner as they march on the Queen's forces and as with the Kirk O' Field drawing several events are shown simultaneously. Bothwell and his servant are seen leaving the field (with an inscription "Bothwellis departing") and are also seen disappearing on the skyline (with the inscription "Bothwill fleand"). Around the frame, the details of the battle are inscribed, stressing the mass of the nobility's opposition to the acts of Bothwell and Mary. The narrative of the murder and its aftermath reaches its culmination in the recumbent effigy of the dead King with his pallid face and staring eyes, and the inscriptions issuing from the mouths of his kneeling parents and heir. The young Prince exclaims "Arise O Lord, and avenge the innocent blood of the KIng my father and me, I entreat thee, defend with your right hand." Darnley's younger brother Charles actually prays to become the instrument of divine retribution himself. The spirit of the painting is very close to the blunt language of the flood of ballads printed in Edinburgh the same year, notably the vehement Exhortatioun to the Lordis (June 1567) which advises the nobility to "Pas forwart in your interpryse/Revenge in haist the cruell act... Let him be slaine your King that slew/Bring ainis his fylthie lyfe till end", ending with the blasphemous "God blis you and your interpryse."

The sombre mood of the painting, with its depiction of solemn, religious ceremony and equally sombre, minimalist colour scheme (harmonious reds, golds and browns) encourages an introspective, meditative response from the viewer. However, this is not peaceful reflection; the mood is serious but also bitter and vengeful, encouraging the viewer to focus on the sense of injustice and tragedy. The image demands that the personal tragedy of the kneeling family applies also to the wider 'family', all of the subjects of the late and rightful King. The most important figures however, are barely visible; Bothwell, a tiny, fleeing figure, then still at large, and Queen Mary, seen surrendering to the army bearing the dead King's banner and thereby admitting her guilt. The picture therefore is a memorial of both a man and a cause, and as with its humbler precedents, is a carefull calculated work which gains force from its potent mix of narrative, documentary and propaganda.

The painting, as an important image of the Scottish monarchy could not be destroyed, even after its cause had become part of history. James VI, though not especially interested in the visual arts, had a keen sense of the quasi-divinity of the Royal image, on one occasion executing a man for not showing the proper respect to Royal portraits.
 In later years, especially after his accession to the throne of England in 1603, he was anxious to rehabilitate the reputation of both of his parents, and it was presumably then that the inscriptions were damaged and the painting given to his Lennox relatives, not re-entering the Royal Collection until the reign of George II a century later.
James' disowning of the picture demonstrates the extent to which, even after the direct references to Mary were removed, it remained a stark image of accusation, the cumulative effect of its wealth of detail vividly recreating the bleak and angry mood surrounding its creation.

An interesting postscript to the Darnley pictures is the Lennox jewel, commissioned some time in the 1560s or 70s. Lord Lennox, Darnley's father, took over from regent Moray in 1570, but was himself shot and killed by rebels after only a year in office. Interestingly, no Vendetta picture seems to have commemorated this act, perhaps because Lennox's successor, The Earl of Mar's regency guaranteed James VI's succession. His death may, however be commemorated in the Lennox Jewel, a complex and emblematic work which relates in many ways to the pictures, The jewel, now in the Royal Collection, was commissioned by Countess Lennox, and bears inscriptions which may refer to the murder of the Regent and which certainly allude to Darnley's claim to the throne of England.


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