Visit Buckingham Palace | Special Coronation Exhibition
Last week I was invited to a preview of the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace.
As you probably know, it’s the official London residence of the King and typically members of the public can book to see inside the State Rooms each summer.
As this is the 30th anniversary of summer openings and it coincides with the Coronation of King Charles III, there’s a special Coronation exhibition including the Robes of Estate and some of the Royal regalia.
So while this isn’t usually the sort of blog content I cover, I thought you might enjoy having a closer look at what’s on display and hearing about its history and the attention to detail that went into some of these objects.
The King’s Robes of Estate
As hand-me-downs go, these magnificent robes aren’t bad.
Worn by Charles’ Grandfather (King George VI) and Great-Grandfather (King George V) for their respective coronations, they were made by Ede and Ravenscroft, London’s oldest tailors established in 1689.
The cream silk overshirt (by Turnbull & Asser) and purple tunic (Ede and Ravenscroft) were made especially for this coronation, inspired by previous outfits worn by his grandfather and great-grandfather.
Queen Camilla’s Coronation Dress
Her Majesty’s robes were designed by Bruce Oldfield. They were made by Ede and Ravenscroft and hand embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework.
The golden thread highlights some sweet detail like the names of her children and grandchildren as well as her two pet Jack Russell Terriers, Bluebell and Beth.
The Coronation Necklace
Originally made for Queen Victoria in 1858, this necklace has been worn at every Coronation since 1902 (by the Queen’s Consorts rather than the chaps, but that would’ve been fun!)
So that means they were worn by Queen Alexandra (1902), Queen Mary (1911) and Queen Elizabeth (1937) and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
The Anointing Screen
One of the most sacred elements of the Coronation ceremony is the anointing. This is when the Archbishop of Canterbury blesses the monarch with holy oil, using the Coronation spoon which dates back to the 12th century and can be seen within the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.
To provide some privacy for this holy moment during the broadcast, a screen was specially commissioned for the Coronation.
The screen shows a tree with 56 leaves, each representing a country of the Commonwealth. The colours of maroon, blue, gold and red reflect the Cosmati pavement in Westminster Abbey upon which the ceremony takes place.
The screen was designed by Aidan Hart and given as a gift from the City of London Corporation and City Livery Companies.
Highlights of the Royal Collection
As well as this special exhibition held in the Ballroom, you walk through beautiful state room after beautiful state room where – sadly – photography isn’t allowed.
However, it’s not all bad because one of the joys of going into Buckingham Palace is seeing some of the exquisite artworks from the Royal Collection. I’ve chosen a couple of my highlights below.
It’s 1759 and Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of King Louis XV of France, has an eye on the Boxing Day sales.
Not just any sale though, this is the end-of-year sale at Versailles and this exquisite piece of soft-paste porcelain was one of only a handful ever made by the Sèvres factory.
The ship’s pierced rigging allow the scent of pot-pourri to permeate the room and I love how the delicate white and gold flag appears to flutter in the breeze.
It was bought for the Royal Collection by King George IV
An Intriguing Self-Portrait
Without a painter’s palette as a prop it might be easy to mistake this portrait for a member of the Stuart court, but its actually a self-portrait of one of the most famous painters of the 17th century, Peter Paul Rubens.
The portrait was commissioned in 1623 by Henry Danvers as a present for the Prince of Wales (later King Charles I). Two years earlier Danvers had commissioned a different painting but when it arrived he was disappointed, feeling that Rubens – not realising it was destined for the future King of England – had outsourced it to his studio and that this was a piece “scares touched by his own hand”.
This result is a strikingly personal portrait where Rubens is in sombre, expensive clothes with a large hat set at a fashionable jaunty angle. There’s also a suggestion of a hidden meaning within the painting, that the glowing red sunset to the left and the slight flush in the artists’ cheeks culminates in a slightly blushing, apologetic Rubens who is desperate to reconcile with Charles whom he described as “The greatest lover of paintings among the princes in the world”.
Flattery will get you everywhere Rubens!
A Perfect Coronation
Given the special Coronation exhibition, it was nice (and timely) to have a chance to admire the epic portrait of Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838.
Bathed in warm light, this painting shows the moment after Victoria is crowned, when all the Lords lift the coronets and all shout ‘God Save The Queen!”. Seeing this, it seems as if the whole event ran perfectly smoothly, when in fact Victoria’s coronation was packed with quite entertaining disasters!
It was probably a bad sign when there hadn’t been any proper rehearsals ahead of the five hour ceremony. Then it started awkwardly with Victoria’s train bearers struggling to walk ion their own long dresses and the whole group moving jerkily and badly down the nave.
The group of elderly bishops administering the ceremony also got confused throughout. Most notable the Bishops of Bath and Wells missed out two pages of the service, skipping ahead so much that the Queen was forced to come out of a changing room early to take part in the liturgy. To cap it all off the 82-year-old Lord Rolle slipped on the stairs, “fell and [literally] rolled quite down” so the alarmed young Queen got up to help him.
Even Victoria didn’t escaped unharmed after an incident with the Coronation ring which was sized for her little finger, but rammed onto her fourth finger. She later wrote in her diary ‘I had the greatest difficulty to take it off again, – which I at last did with great pain’.
So you’d never guess the full story from looking at this painting finished in 1840. Queen Victoria herself was apparently delighted and the The Times called it ‘a very splendid picture’.
Visit Buckingham Palace
The State Rooms are open Thursdays-Mondays from now until 24 September. You can book a timed entry slot on their website here and adult tickets are £30 which includes an audio guide.
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