X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week. If you receive it, you’ll also find your subscriber number at the top of our weekly highlights email.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.spectator.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050. If you’ve only just subscribed, you may not yet have been issued with a subscriber number. In this case you can use the temporary web ID number, included in your email order confirmation.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

If you have any difficulties creating an account or logging in please take a look at our FAQs page.

Books

The Duchess of Cambridge, defining a portrait

14 January 2013

12:26 PM

14 January 2013

12:26 PM

Poor Kate Middleton. In the royal tradition of artistic and literary representation, what defines her at this moment in time? The creepy feature on her wardrobe statistics in February’s Vogue? Or Paul Emsley’s even creepier official portrait revealed last week?

Emsley’s Vaseline lens ‘Gaussian girl’ take on the future consort would have been appropriate had she the complexion of Doris Day, whose preference for the blurred lens was renowned. The fact we all know that Kate’s skin is like butter, her eyes sparkly, and demeanour jollier than her hockey stick makes her first official portrait instantly bewildering. Just imagine, though, if we didn’t know any of those things.

Traditionally, we have viewed royal portraits as spy-glasses into past monarchs’ characters. We look searchingly at a painting to discern clues about the sitter’s personality, which we assume worked its way naturally into the canvas. It’s a fair assumption insofar as portraiture normally requires sitter and artist to spend hours in one another’s company.

[Alt-Text]


If we look at Kate’s portrait in the way we do Hans Holbein’s iconic portrait of Henry VIII, we might be inclined to see in her steely eyes and contorted mouth a hard and calculating woman who refused to emerge from behind a smoke screen. At present, there’s no adequate and parallel literary portrait to counter that picture. But even if there was, would a literary or artistic portrait be more persuasive?

Richard III makes an interesting case study. His literary and artistic portraits will soon be compared to the archaeological portrait afforded by the discovery of his skeleton in a Leicester car park last year (confirmation pending, but extremely likely). We’ll find that all three are drastically at odds.

The portrait of the late, medieval king that hangs, like Kate’s, in the National Portrait Gallery, is relatively sympathetic. His face is kind, and handsome. Until the skeleton with surprisingly mild curvature of the spine was found, posterity preferred to imagine him in the words of Thomas More and Shakespeare, who associated his outer appearance with his inner appearance, as sadly humans always have, and always will: ‘curtail’d of this fair proportion,/Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,/Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time/Into this breathing world…’ Regardless of its chances at accuracy, the power of the literary portrait superseded the artistic portrait.

Fortunately for Kate, whose beauty will help protect her from any such slurs, a penetratingly powerful literary portrait – less biography than snapshot – to counter Emsley’s painting won’t be hard to produce.

Give something clever this Christmas – a year’s subscription to The Spectator for just £75. And we’ll give you a free bottle of champagne. Click here.


Show comments
Close