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Be my Valentine? No way, you’re in the Tower of London!

By Art Tours, Elevenses, Valentines day

The first known Valentine was sent from prison and involves a tale of royal in-fighting, warfare and imprisonment in the Tower of London.

The ‘valentine’ itself wasn’t a card but a few lines in a poem, written by Charles, the Duke of Orléans, in 1415, when he was 21 years old. Charles was caught in the crossfire of a fight for the control of France between his father, Louis I, who presided over the House of Orléans, and his uncle’s family which oversaw the House of Burgundy. His uncle also happened to be ‘mad’ Charles VI of France. When Charles Duke of Orléans was captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, he was held as a pawn by the Burgundians in the Tower of London and wrote his wife a letter from his cell that included the lines:

‘God forgives him who has estranged / Me from you for the whole year. / I am already sick of love, / My very gentle Valentine.’

Charles I Duke of Orleans Golden Fleece

Unknown artist, Miniature from Statutes, Ordonnances and armorial of the Order of the Golden Fleece, 1473, Gerard Collection

Charles writing a Valentine from the Tower of London

Unknown artist, Charles of Orleans in the Tower of London, Book of Poetry of Charles d’Orleans, 15th century, Royal MS 16 F II, British Library

OK, this might not look like a dank and dingy cell in this image, but here is Charles writing his letter, over on the right side of the picture at a table under the archway. I’m thinking that the artist has taken a liberty with the actual architecture of the Tower of London to allow us a peek inside, not to mention the tiny walls, but is that London Bridge in the background? I think it is! There were houses on it in the early 15th century, as this fantastic model created in 1987 by David T Aggett, a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Plumbers shows. Photo credit the Londonist.

Old London Bridge

Back to Charles who is also at the window in the centre of the composition, and then featured again outside giving his masterpiece to a courier to take to his wife, who by the way he was never to see again. He was held prisoner for 25 years, and she died before he was released.

Another early adopter of the term ‘Valentine’ was Margery Brews who wrote to her one true love in February 1477 pleading with him not to leave her over her underwhelming dowry! They do get married, you’ll be happy to hear, and Margery has gone down in history as the first person to write a Valentines note in English.

Margery Brews first Valentine note in English

Margery Brews, The Paston Letters, February 1477, Add MS 43490, f.24r, British Library

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

St Valentine. Or should I say St Valentines?

By Art Tours, Elevenses, Talking art, Valentines day

Early depictions of St Valentine show him humbly submitting to having his head chopped off. Not terribly romantic but he wasn’t associated with romance back then, he was basically a martyr who happened to have performed a miracle or two.

St Valentine martyred Queen Mary Psalter

The Queen Mary Psalter, 1310-20, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 243r, British Library

It was only in 1375 when Chaucer’s poem ‘Parliament of Fowls’ was published that a link was forged between St Valentine and romance. The link comes from the lines

‘Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,’

Apparently birds went out to find their mates on February 14 so why shouldn’t unmarried boys and girls should do the same?

But if St Valentine wasn’t originally the patron saint of hearts and flowers, who was he?

That’s a moot point. There are two contenders:

Contender 1 is the 3rd century Bishop of Terni, Narnia and Amelia. Yes! There is a real place called Narnia, it’s a hilltop town in Umbria. C S Lewis loved the name and used it for the Chronicles of Narnia series.

Placed under house arrest with a local judge because of his faith, the Bishop proves a point by restoring sight to his captors blind daughter. The judge converts, releases loads of Christians from prison and of course allows his excellency to roam free to carry on preaching, whereupon he becomes a nuisance and is sent to Rome to repent or get bludgeoned and beheaded. Instead of repenting he tries to convert Emperor Claudius II, which leads to his head getting chopped off.

St Valentine from the Unknown artist, Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples, 14th century, Lives of Saints, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

Unknown artist, Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples, 14th century, Lives of the Saints, (Codex: Français 185, Fol. 210), Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

St Valentine the priest in Nuremberg Chronicle

Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, St Valentine, Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

Contender 2 wasn’t a Bishop but a priest. The story here goes that St. Valentine was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and aiding Christians being persecuted by Claudius II in Rome. According to legend, while in prison Valentinus fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer and guess what? He restored her sight and all the jailors converted so he was given the option to repent and renounce his faith or get bludgeoned and beheaded.

I’m not the only one who thinks these stories are rather similar, especially because both Valentines were reported to be buried in the same place in the north of Rome. There’s no official ruling on whether they were the same person or not and in 1969, the Roman Catholic Church removed St. Valentine from the General Roman Calendar, because so little is known about him. Luckily the church still recognizes him as a saint.

Good job he's the patron saint of epileptics, beekeepers and lovers

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Twenty minutes to go, two paintings down

By Art Tours

What you need when you curate a tour of six paintings is for the paintings to be on the wall. In the gallery. And to know where they are, obviously.

A week or so ago I had an afternoon DIVAS! tour but I’d neglected my usual checks until about 30 minutes before I was due to meet my guests. The first two works were perfect – still in the Sainsbury Wing where I’d left them a few days before. I then bustle into room 9 to check a Tintoretto and the bloody thing’s not there! Ironically it’s been replaced by a painting depicting Zeus abducting Ganymede which was one of my original choices for this tour but as it wasn’t on display, I didn’t learn it.

Now, it’s completely normal for the National Gallery to move paintings or even remove them altogether for a period of time. Amongst other things, it keeps the experience fresh for regular visitors. I wasn’t, however, necessarily up for a challenge at that particular moment, so picture the scene when, after finding works four and five in situ, the doors to room 45 were shut. What’s in room 45? Mme Moitessier my sixth and final diva, although arguably that accolade should go to the French artist, Ingres, who took 12 years to paint her.

Seriously. One room closed. Two out of six paintings down. Twenty minutes until the start of the tour.

So, I had a little panic and got that over and done with, and then set about scrolling through my mental rolodex (look it up if you’re under 35) for paintings that wouldn’t just do, but that would maintain the energy and diversity of the tour. Of course there needed to be diva action, but I also wanted narrative action of the juicy variety – how else do you replace a story about the origins of the milky way?!

Well, if I was bustling earlier, now I’m whirling through the gallery searching for the perfect replacements. I had a couple of portraits up my sleeve but I only wanted to use one, not both. Then it came to me. Bronzino’s Allegory with Venus and Cupid is utterly bonkers, with a cracking back story and enough divaesque behaviour to compete with a boudoir brimming with opera singers. But guess what? The room was closed for a virginal recital. Naturally.

Two rooms closed. One painting down. Ten minutes to go.

The gallery attendants are there to help and no, I didn’t faint or scream or anything, instead I asked calmly when the room might re-open. Finally, a Hallelujah moment! I was assured that by the time we got to Cupid giving his Mum’s nipple a little tweak (it’s there, take a look), the recital would be over and the painting available to view at close quarters. It was, and as I recall, the virginal had also disappeared. A lot can happen in 90 minutes, it seems.

Anyway, no one needed to be any the wiser that the Bronzino wasn’t part of the original plan, nor that I’d chucked in The Rokeby Venus at the last minute;  I figured that her beauty and the deranged Suffragette who tried to destroy her would fit the diva mould nicely. Except they knew because I told them! I reckon it’s all part of the experience, and I’ve just realised that it was Friday the 13th… should have known.

The photo is a screen shot from a piece recorded two minutes before I met my guests.  Surprise, relief, adrenaline, it’s all there!  The full video is on the highlights tab ‘Before a Tour’ on my Instagram feed.

When things go wrong in the National Gallery

Why dresses matter

By Art Tours, Dressing up

Sometimes you have to sit back and take stock of how far you’ve come. Today I met a girlfriend for lunch and ended up filming the reactions of our fellow diners to my new Bombshell dress which had been sitting primly in it’s box under the table until we got up to leave and curiosity dictated that my purchase was displayed. In the past it wouldn’t have occurred to me to record the moment, but last year I launched Beyond the Palette Art Tours and I’m finally ready to launch my business and myself (in a manner of speaking) into the world. This particular snapshot of life is now on my Instagram highlights. Who knew?

It would be a reasonable question to ask what dresses have to do with art tours, and the answer may well have been ‘nothing’ had it not been for the feedback from my very first group. I remember the tour well. It was all about horror in paintings from the early modern period, a subject that I’d studied for my masters at UCL. I had gathered a group of friends and friends of friends and, as it was a Saturday, I was heading out to dinner with one of them post tour. I have no idea what I would have worn had I not been wriggling off to Sexy Fish later that evening, but because I felt a sense of occasion, I dressed up. And every single person mentioned how I looked in their feedback. So, dressing up, and dresses in particular, have become a thing, and why not? Everyone needs a bit of escapism and theatre now and again, and it’s a lovely thing to enhance what is already a visual treat (thank you, old masters, you are always the stars of the show), with well tailored creations in sumptuous materials and a gorgeous lippy to match.

You only need to stand in Trafalgar Square and look at the staircase leading up to the grand portico at the front of the National Gallery to feel that it’s a building that embraces grandeur and style. What I aim to add is a big splash of colour, both literally and metaphorically so that together we can revel in its treasures with a fitting sense of occasion, and a delicious joie de vivre. A bit like putting on a great dress really.