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First Published:  April 2013
Revised (substantive):  19 June 2021

Re. “the representation of heraldic animals in the English royal arms”

facsimile of late-17th-century etching

Etching by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–1677). Frontispiece to The Entertainment of his Most Excellent Majestie Charles II (1662), a commemoration of the new king’s coronation, written and printed by John Ogilby (1600–1676). “Drawing upon earlier traditions of triumphal royal processions, Ogilby used the capital’s streets as a theatrical stage for the promotion of civic virtue, royal authority, and future prosperity.” (Withers, ODNB entry for Ogilby, n. pag.)

Hollar’s design shows the Stuart royal arms, encircled by the Garter, upheld by their supporters, the lion and the unicorn (the subject of Sir Thomas Browne’s “unwilling” critique in 1646).

Hollar has packed the piece with monarchist iconography, from the rose and the thistle (heraldic emblems of England and Scotland, respectively) at the top, to the motto of the English royal family, asserting the “divine right” of kings, at bottom center: Dieu et Mon Droit [God and My Right]. On the royal garter (part of the habit and ensign of Britain’s Order of the Garter) is inscribed the motto of the oldest chivalric order in Europe: Honi soit qui Mal y pense [Shame to him that thinks Evil hereof].

Following the Restoration of Charles II, there was a huge demand for royalist imagery such as this, and Hollar’s etchings for Ogilby’s Entertainment, and for Elias Ashmole’s The Institution, Laws & Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter (1672), would have sold briskly as stand-alone prints.

Opening quotation mark... In 1660 all the visual arts were brought into the service of reconstituting monarchy and aristocratic society. A treatise translated by the diarist John Evelyn (1620–1706) was one of many that argued the role of architecture in constructing order and civility; Walter Charleton reinterpreted Stonehenge as a site for the inauguration of kings; and, of course, hundreds of paintings of Charles II, many in garter robes, by Peter Lely (1618–80), John Riley (1646–91), Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723) and others, figured the King at the centre of the frame of government. No less, the many portraits of garter knights, of aristocrats and office-holders, of bishops and deans, served to reconstitute and display order, privilege and hierarchy in church, state and society. Carefully considered portrayals of figures of authority were, then as they are now, intended as ‘silent instructions’, underpinning the naturalness of the social order and the innate authority of rulers and governors.

“ Yet the Restoration saw changes in the visual arts which complicated the social and political performance of these representations. Again, the commercialisation and commodification of the arts was fundamental. A mounting interest in, and market for, paintings is an obvious feature and development of the late-seventeenth century. As well as the increasing numbers of commissions, of portraits of women as well as men, of merchants and mayors as well as nobles, books on sculpture, painting and etching abound, addressed to both budding connoisseurs and amateur painters and engravers. Catalogues of pictures, maps and prints — of Civil War battles and the new royal family — bear witness to a thriving art market.

“ The market was expanded and extended by an increased interest in the engraved print and, from the 1670s, a new fashionable genre the mezzotint. Copperplate engraving had made a slow start in sixteenth-century England, and before the Civil War had been almost entirely dominated by foreign craftsmen. But the market for engravings of royal and public figures grew from Elizabeth’s reign to the point where, during the War, the engraver Peter Stent was able to run a successful shop selling his own, and others’, work. The emergence of new figures of authority during the Commonwealth and at the Restoration further fed the market for relatively inexpensive portraits, making the art of engraving and etching, as a principal practitioner William Faithorne put it in 1662, ‘arrive to such height in these our ... times’. The fashion for making and collecting engravings took off over the following decades, as producers responded to patterns of consumption and social change by selling groups of portraits — of bishops, for example — in uniform style for display. While elaborate, large engravings remained expensive, they were, of course, but a small fraction of the cost of a canvas; the cheapest were not beyond those of quite modest means; and even the poorest viewed them on tavern walls. Increasingly in late-seventeenth-century England the arts, which had been a sacred mystery, a mimesis of divine nature, became a widespread commodity, produced, owned, distributed and discussed by many. Though scholars have yet to address the broader social and political implications of this development, contemporaries clearly grasped its import. Evelyn, for one, thought it regrettable that images of his king could be produced and perpetrated by ‘bunglers’ or hung in alehouses. Others noted that common folk began to judge paintings and comment on ‘cutts’ (engravings). Moreover, those who had engravings of kings and lords at home had, in some measure, come to possess representations of authority which had formerly been displayed only in privileged spaces, making not only the image but the figure of authority a part of domestic experience. In turn, by the very end of the century, the images of sacral kingship gave way to more domestic portraits of the monarch, less removed from, and more ‘at home’ with, his or her subjects.

“ What was more immediately obvious was the place of visual forms, and especially engravings, in the new culture and politics of party. As party conflict intensified, satirical engravings and cartoons were deployed alongside squibs and lampoons to denigrate rivals. As if countering the official engravings of Charles II enthroned, in armour, touching for the king’s evil or as Garter sovereign, we find satirical images of Catholic processions and plots, and cartoons such as that of an emasculated England presented as a lion without a tail. Though Charles remained popular and his own image escaped the satirical cartoonists’ pen, sacrilegious engravings of his mistresses and bastards graphically turned attention from the sacred to the fleshly body of the King. His less popular successor James was, from the beginning, pilloried in cartoons and comic strips that unquestionably undermined his authority. By the time of the Hanoverians, the once mystical royal body was the subject of the most scatological cartoons.Closing quotation mark

SOURCE:  Kevin Sharpe, “Restoration and Reconstitution: Politics, Society and Culture in the England of Charles II.” Pp. 20–21 in Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II. Ed. by Catharine MacLeod and Julia Marciari Alexander. London and New Haven: National Portrait Gallery in association with Yale Center for British Art, 2001.