I recently read Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and it was fantastic. Her portrayal of Anne Boylen as an agent with a cold, cool demeanor was haunting. In Wolf Hall Mantel describes her as a “calculating being, with a cold slick brain at work behind her hungry black eyes”.

In the novels, Mantel’s Boylen always fidgets with something – her gown, laces, a dog. Unnerving. It reminded me of her famous portrait at Hever Castle.

Anne Boleyn holds a rose, oil painting.

Anne Boleyn, Unknown Artist

Her hand twists so elegantly holding onto the rose, the sign of Tudor power. But the other hand looks ready to pluck its petals. (It must be mentioned this isn’t the white and red Tudor rose.)

In 16th century European portraiture, it was fashionable for wealthy patrons to have on display expensive accessories symbolizing their power.

If you’re a European noble around 1500 – 1600 and have a portrait sitting coming up, what pose should you strike?

How about…

Hold that Flower

Need to hold a symbol of your house and its power, especially during a tenuous reign?

Hold a flower!

Flowers have long been symbols of, well, anything and everything.

Edward VI painting

King Edward VI, after Hans Holbein the Younger, 1542

Painting of Henry VII

Henry VII, Unknown Artist

Other uses include your marital status. This woman has announced her engagement with a bittersweet – sorry ladies and gentlemen.

oil on panel painting of a woman holding a bittersweet

Elisabeth Bellinghausen, Bartholomaus Bruyn, 1538-39

And you know what, they make any outfit look damn good.

Oil painting of Mary Stuart

Mary Stuart (likely), Unknown Artist, 1575

Finger Your Rings

Need to show off your soft hands and expensive jewels to better effect?

Twisting the ring oh-so-precariously off of the little finger draws the eyes attention to finely adorned white hands. It says to your viewers (peasants), “Oh, I have all this finery, I can be careless.”

Miniature of Mary Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots, Francois Clouet, 1558 – 60

oil painting of Richard III

Richard III, Unknown Artist, 1504 – 20

Do the Pearl Drop

Do you need to show that you’re pure, maybe even available?

Pearls were symbols of purity and virginity – perfect for women and children.

They’re also useful for showing how fabulously wealthy you are as a few pearls could fetch the equivalent of millions in today’s money.

Painting of Emperor Ferdinand I holding pearl

Emperor Ferdinand I at the age of ten or twelve, Unknown Artist, 1520

Mary, Queen of Scots portrait

Mary, Queen of Scots, Unknown Artist

Maria Leopoldine of Austria painting

Maria Leopoldine of Austria

Twist at Your Necklace

Maybe touching one pearl isn’t getting the message across of how very rich you are. How about grabbing your whole necklace.

Nobles and Royals are really into their money and fineries. Fingering their jeweled necklaces was another way of showing wealth and power.

Portrait of a woman

Portrait of a Lady, Bernardino Luini, 1520 – 5

One string of pearls? Nah, I need two. And puffed ribboned sleeves.

Painting of Elizabeth I

The Armada Portrait, George Gower, 1600

painting of Lady Anne Pope

Lady Anne Pope, Robert Peake, 1615

 

Hopefully, you now have a few ideas for your next sitting.

But remember, make sure that you are in a pose that intimidates your guests by your sheer amount of money. Also, the more portraits you have, the better!

 

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