Art and Magic in the Court of the Stuarts

Art and Magic in the Court of the Stuarts

Art and Magic in the Court of the Stuarts

Art and Magic in the Court of the Stuarts

Synopsis

Spanning from the inauguration of James I in 1603 to the execution of Charles I in 1649, the Stuart court saw the emergence of a full expression of Renaissance culture in Britain. Hart examines the influence of magic on Renaissance art and how in its role as an element of royal propaganda, art was used to represent the power of the monarch and reflect his apparent command over the hidden forces of nature. Court artists sought to represent magic as an expression of the Stuart Kings' divine right, and later of their policy of Absolutism, through masques, sermons, heraldry, gardens, architecture and processions. As such, magic of the kind enshrined in Neoplatonic philosophy and the court art which expressed its cosmology, played their part in the complex causes of the Civil War and the destruction of the Stuart image which followed in its wake.

Excerpt

Much of this book was written in Bath, a city which is coincidentally probably the last example of architecture influenced by the tradition of 'magical' British mythology explored in this book—although this study in fact ends with the execution of Charles I, over a century before the building of Bath's circus and crescent. I have traced the later influences of this British mythology in an article, 'One View of a Town: Prior Park and the City of Bath', RES, Spring—Autumn 1989, whilst the earlier manifestation of this mythology in the artistic image of Stuart monarchy formed the subject of my Ph.D. thesis, entitled 'Stonehenge as Emblem: Considerations on the Restoration of St Paul's Cathedral by Inigo Jones', undertaken at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. This book concentrates on the art of this early period, most notable for the birthof a movement in architecture which art historians have come to term 'Palladian'.

Art historians have traditionally stressed that Italian style, and particularly that based on the work of the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio, was the source of early Stuart Renaissance art. What this focus has tended to ignore, however, is the meaning behind this so-called style, the intention of which was not aesthetic satisfaction but a powerful political message, a confirmation of British monarchy in rivalry with the Italian states and the papal 'Anti-Christ'. In order to achieve this, the forces of nature itself were harnessed and confidently represented in various art-forms to express the legitimacy of British imperialism, and a mythical antiquity which had been superior even to that of the Golden Age of Augustan Rome. This study attempts to show that art played an important role in the theatre of ideas. As such this book maps a path through a largely uncharted territory, a lost and unacknowledged Stuart magical culture expressed in its artifacts, symbols and cosmology.

The study of this theme of the early British Renaissance led me into a relatively unexplored area, for in the period marking the eclipse of medieval cosmology by what is identifiable as a coherent Renaissance outlook an apparent void in traditional art historical studies emerged. Here, we have

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