Category Archives: portraiture

What Thomas More Didn’t Want You To Know

On April 12, 1534 Thomas More was asked to sign the Oath of Supremacy. Five days later, he was arrested and taken to the Tower where he spent the remainder of his days. So what was he doing during those five days? Was he taking the opportunity to persecute a few more heretics? Filling out the lengthy application for sainthood?  Was he indulging in some well-deserved self-flagellation? No, no, and no. The truth is… he had a bonfire party.

more's richard

You see, Thomas More had a lot of things to hide.  The ending to his “The History of King Richard III”, the whereabouts of at least one of the Princes in the Tower, and the directions to Utopia, just to name a few.  Thomas More had even figured out how to effect world peace, build a better mousetrap, and time travel.

More family portrait

More knew that the villain Henry VIII would see to it that he did not survive. But he would have his revenge on Henry and on the world, which he deemed sinful and full of vice. So he strolled out into his courtyard and he built  a pyre. He threw in the last chapters of Richard III, his decoder ring for his family portrait, and the iPhone he acquired on a trip to the 21st century.  He stood merrily by, toasting marshmallows and roasting sausages, as the answers to so many questions went up in smoke.

moreburningbooks

More languished in the Tower stubbornly refusing to sign the oath. His trial might have come much sooner, were it not for Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell had dined with More at Chelsea and had heartily enjoyed a wonderful pastry during the meal. For weeks, he browbeat More and history would have us believe that the Oath was his primary objective. In truth, it was the recipe for the marvelous dessert that Cromwell craved. Unfortunately, More had burned his cookbook along with the rest of the mysteries and refused to divulge the secret to the tasty tart.

tudor pastry

Almost five hundred years later, we still wonder what More meant by his History of Richard III and argue its relevance. Periodically, someone will point out a hidden message in the More family portrait and keyboards are ferociously pounded as historians great and small discuss the meaning of it all. Thomas More took to his grave the answers to some of the most puzzling questions in history.  But his stinginess in withholding the instructions to delicious pastry was just not a very saintlike thing to do.

 

Jeff “the wiz” Berlin

Sources:

The History of King Richard III

Thomas More The Saint and the Society

The Keebler Elves

 

Having sworn off strip clubs and agreeing to cut back on my consumption of scotch, I am happy to report that my wife seems less disgruntled than has previously been the case.  I am not long to linger in domestic bliss, however. My next super secret spy mission is taking me to Phuket, Thailand, and then perhaps on to Cairo. There have been reported disturbances in these places, in regards to reggae music and national and historical safety.

 

 

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The inadequacies of Tudor picture tagging – new research using Adobe Photoshop filters

The shortest of Henry VIII’s marriages was to the unfortunate Anne of Cleves, a German princess reputedly chosen as a match for diplomatic reasons. Popular legend has it that Henry sent his German court painter, Hans Holbein, to Kleve-Burg to capture a likeness of Anne for his approval – the sixteenth century equivalent of ‘photo appreciated’ on a dating ad. Popular legend would have us believe that Holbein – an artist so accurate that his paintings have recently led to a whole slew of disguised historical figures being belatedly recognised – managed to paint Anne looking decidedly hot, but that Henry VIII then found her markedly unattractive and failed to consummate the union. Like many men, I have always regarded the story with considerable scepticism, since the Anne of Holbein’s portrait is not someone you would ever kick out of bed.

What if, however, the ‘Anne’ portrait was of someone else entirely? Had Holbein got mixed up? Was he attempting to deceive the king? Or had Anne or one of her family arranged for a ‘ringer’ to site for the portrait?

Double Historry for Tim.

My research has focussed on two pictures – one long attributed to the Flemish artist Quentin Massys but which I have now proved was the work of Holbein due to similarities in the handwriting of the hidden messages, and the other the ‘hot’ portrait long believed to be the real Anne. It seems from the revealed secret messages that Holbein was moonlighting on his German trip by working on portraits for a glamour calendar (whether this project was ever completed or not is unclear; no copies have survived).

Holbein – poignantly – seems to have known how much Henry would dislike Anne, as the secret text reads – in sixteenth century German – “HnRch [ie Heinrich, ie Henry] is going to kill me”. It seems that the two paintings were to be sent back in the same shipment, since the painting everyone assumes is Anne is marked “Miss August – HnRch must not see this painting!” Holbein, who must have known the king very well, seems to have been aware which of the two paintings would appeal to his master, and taken pains in his invisible secret messages to have avoided getting the two mixed up (we can infer that the ‘Anne’ painting was required by an English copyist or customer, hence Holbein saving on postage charges by sending the two works together).Double Historry for Tim 2

Tragically, the courier must have been either illiterate or unable to speak German (or both), leading to his failure to act on the invisible secret messages and thus mixing up the works. (This scenario may also explain why the calendar project was cancelled and remained unfinished!)

The rest, as they say, is history – Henry picked ‘Miss August’ as his prospective bride and was horrified when the real Anne turned up. Another historical mystery solved by photoshop!

Sources:
The complete works of Holbein (magazine collection in weekly instalments, missing issues 3,7, 11, 27-92 and the free binder)
That leaflet showing the way round the National Gallery
Hot German Historical Babes, June 1542 (slightly foxed)
The Pirelli Calendar, various years (for secondary research, honest)

Jeff de Cuisine is currently researching the fifteenth-century Swiss Chronicles of Diebold Schilling, in weekly instalments from Patel’s newsagents on the corner; missing issues 2, 5, 12, 31-33 and the free binder)

© Jeff de Cuisine February 8th 2015.