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Windsor Castle in Modern Times

Edwin Landseer, 1841-45
Royal Collection, London


Simon Schama offers a broad context for understanding the significance of Landseer’s Windsor Castle :

“Those monarchies that have survived into the late twentieth century have done so through a calculated combination of the ritual and the prosaic; of high ceremony and bourgeois demystification; garden parties along with the anointing oil. Landseer, who was the most intimate of Queen Victoria’s court artists – her drawing master as well as her obedient servant – understood this balance of sensibilities perfectly. Accordingly, he incorporated romantic and fanciful elements into Windsor Castle: the Prince Consort’s bag of game improbably strewn about the floor, and his Freischutz boots. But the sharply drawn distinctions between manly sports and womanly delicacy (signified by the posy held in the Queen’s hand), and the hunting and house dogs are those of the Victorian marriage, not the Victorian crown. For in Landseer’s view of the Green Drawing Room, it is the standing wife-queen who attends on the seated husband-prince. And this vision of the domestic virtues, and of family piety, is completed by the distant prospect of the queen’s mother, the Duchess of Kens, being solicitously wheeled about the park in a bath chair.

The rise of the concept of a royal family was accompanied by the rise of the royal family portrait. Indeed, no firm distinction existed between the image and the political reality. For, once the means of mass production and distribution of such images was available, allegiance (or at least the sentimental bond forged between monarch and subjects) depended on a steady flow of appealing images….Along with the traditional celebration of the monarch’s birthday, a whole calendar of domestic events – births, christenings, betrothals, weddings, and comings-of-age – was transferred to the public domain.”

Simon Schama, “The Domestication of Majesty: Royal Family Portraiture, 1500-1850,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol. 17, no. 1 (Summer 1986): 155-7.

About the Artist

Born: London, 7 March 1802
Died: London, 1 October 1873
Nationality: English