Penguin Monarchs: the kings & queens of England

I adore this new/ongoing Penguin series on British (predominantly English) kings and queens — partly because I love our long line of bizarre monarchs, at least once they are safely dead, and more importantly because the cover designs are beautiful.

My favourite safely dead monarch, incidently, is Henry VII, fugitive survivor and slightly machiavellian, eminently pragmatic administrator of the realm, although his reign became somewhat dystopian in its final years; but this is a selection of my favourite designs.

Edward II, reigned 1307-27. Kit Marlowe evidently had many feelings (don’t we all?). Richard II tried to have him canonised, perhaps in order to make the unflattering comparisons between himself and Edward a little more flattering and a more viable model for kingship (unsuccessfully).
Henry II, reigned 1154-89. English & French contemporary sources make for good reading about this key period in the history of Anglo-Franco relations.
Charles II, monarch of England, Scotland & Ireland 1660-85. My republican tendencies still feel let down by Oliver Cromwell and the British temperament; as regicide John Cook wrote before his execution, ‘We fought for the public good and would have enfranchised the people and secured the welfare of the whole groaning creation, if the nation had not more delighted in servitude than in freedom.’
Mary I, reigned 1553-58. Captions do not offer space enough to advocate for her tragic life and condemn the Marian persecutions, so I won’t.
William II, reigned 1087-1100. Often known as William Rufus (hence ‘the red king’), possible gay icon, probably murdered in the New Forest.

Also! An interview with Jonathan Gibbs, designer of the Henry II cover, on his inspiration and process.

Cristóbal de Villalpando: Mexican Painter of the Baroque @ The Met Museum

25 July–15 October 2017, The Met Museum

Cristóbal de Villalpando (ca. 1649–1714) emerged in the 1680s not only as the leading painter in Mexico, but also as one of the most innovative and accomplished artists in the entire Spanish world. This exhibition features his earliest masterpiece, a monumental painting showing two scenes—Moses and the brazen serpent, and the Transfiguration of Jesus—in an unprecedented juxtaposition of these Old and New Testament subjects. Painted in 1683 for a chapel in Puebla Cathedral and newly conserved, the 28-foot-tall painting has never before been exhibited outside its place of origin in Puebla, Mexico. Ten additional works are shown that demonstrate Villalpando’s engagement with concepts of invention and professional identity, his ability to convey complex subject matter, and his capacity to envision the divine. Highlights include his recently discovered Adoration of the Magi, on loan from Fordham University, and The Holy Name of Mary, from the Museum of the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Moses and the Brazen Serpent and the Transfiguration of Jesus, 1683. Oil on canvas.

‘Moses and the Brazen Serpent and the Transfiguration of Jesus’, the 1683 canvas that the Mexican artist Cristóbal de Villalpando painted for a chapel in Puebla Cathedral, has reputedly never been exhibited outside its place of origin. The work is striking for its juxtaposition of the Old and New Testaments. Atop is the transfiguration of Jesus’s corporeal body into light. The lower image portrays the biblical story in which Moses used the image of the brazen serpent to heal snake-poisoned Israelites.

‘De Villalpando’s Holy Canvases Arrive at The Met’, Robin Pogrebin

Adam and Eve in Paradise, 1689. Oil on canvas.
The Holy Name of Mary, ca. 1690-99. Oil on canvas.
The Deluge, 1689. Oil on canvas.
The Annunciation, 1706. Oil on canvas.

Paintings are vulnerable. All paintings are. Each needs its own special consideration.

‘Moses in Mexico’, James Fenton