Court, Society, and the Arts of Tudor England, 1485-1603

This course will examine the art and material culture of the “Golden Age” of the Tudors, a defining era in British political, religious and cultural history, whose residual power is evident in the hold it still carries in the popular imagination. The course will follow the transformation of the arts and of material life over the tumultuous reigns of five Tudor monarchs, from Henry VII’s and his son, Henry VIII’s, ruthless establishment of the family dynasty and their employment of artists and craftsmen imported from abroad to substantiate their claims; to Henry VIII’s break with Catholic Rome and the full political, religious, and cultural crisis of the English Reformation that ensued: on the one hand the destruction and looting of monasteries by Henry VIII’s commissioners and the wrecking of medieval shrines by Protestant enthusiasts; on the other, the engine of much cultural creativity and the springing up of an idiosyncratic Protestant culture. This reached its height, after the crises and reversals of the reigns of Edward VI’s and Mary Tudor’s reigns, under Elizabeth I. We will study the material props of court ceremonial—the elaborate costumes, sets of tapestry, jewelry, embroidery, painted miniatures, emblematic portraiture, poetry, arms and armor, tournaments and feasts—that her courtiers used to bolster the image of Royal Supremacy. Employing the full-blown panoply of Renaissance emblem and symbol, they created a cult of the “Virgin Queen” to portray the Elizabeth I as the embodiment of the justice and glory and incipient imperialism of the “godly state” of England. In exploring these themes, we will take full advantage of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s fall exhibition, “The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England,” the first exhibition devoted to the Tudors in the United States.
More broadly, the course will examine the character and contrasts of material life across English society, from the austere materialism of domestic life imposed by Puritan dictates, to the rich, eccentric luxuriance of the fairytale “Prodigy Houses,” such as Hardwick Hall and Longford Castle, built by the newly-enriched bureaucrats and civil servants of the Tudor regime. We will be attentive too to the Reformation’s stimulus to the printed book and to the rich literary culture that found its apogee in Shakespeare and the translations of the Bible.
Finally, the course will examine the cultural and artistic consequences of Protestant England’s place in the world, as a small island isolated from the high renaissance—Catholic—culture of continental Europe, but with a growing maritime empire, whose merchant adventurers, seafarers and diplomats sought new diplomatic and commercial interests that extended from Constantinople, the Courts of Mughal India, to the colonies in Virginia. 3 credits. Satisfies the pre-1800requirement.