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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Visions on the horizon of desire : a painting of Henry VII & his family in the presence of St. George & the dragon reconsidered Milne, Margaret Wood


Bloodthirsty spectacle and devotional introspection commune together in a curious panel painting presently located at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. In the foreground Henry VU and his entire family kneel in prayer seemingly oblivious to St. George and the dragon waging mortal combat directly above. In the immediate centre an iridescent angel confronts the viewer with his piercing eyes. This unique panel, commissioned by Henry VU in the final years of his reign between 1503-9, has proved an enigma. With its iconographic perversity (indiscriminate borrowing from disparate artistic traditions) and stylistic eccentricities (curiously flattened and spatially disjointed figures), the Holyrood panel pushes against the boundaries of earlier visual traditions whilst rejecting renaissance paradigms manifest on the continent at this time. The reign of Henry VII itself has been seen to straddle the unstable political and cultural terrain between the Medieval and the Early Modern era. Therefore this panel provides a unique opportunity to challenge established notions regarding the intersection between vision and politics within the early Tudor court. In this thesis then, I examine the visual peculiarities presented in the Holyrood panel in order to uncover alternative viewing frameworks operative within the English court at this time. I posit pilgrimage as the structuring frame for the image with allegory as its internal dynamic. Allegory is an interpretive mode impelled by desire, which recovers meaning through the assimilation of seemingly disjunctive forms. In order to explore these allegorical trajectories within the panel, I situate the unusual configuration of St. George within an historical symbolic field. I conclude that allegory is a viable mode of political persuasion, which interpolates a predetermined viewer (here the Garter lords and knights) into a contractual relationship. Commissioned by Henry VII at a time of dynastic uncertainty and immanent death, the Holyrood panel is a political strategy that attempts to secure Tudor succession.

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