The Tudors – Musée du Luxembourg

Laurent Brero
May 6, 2015 4:00AM

 This exhibition is organised by the Réunion des musées nationaux in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, London.  

Of all the dynasties that have succeeded one another on the English throne, the Tudors, who reigned between 1485 and 1603, are certainly one of the most popular. Apart from the legend largely inspired by their private lives, the sovereigns left a deep imprint on the history of the kingdom: politically, by giving it a strategic position in Europe; spiritually, by breaking away from the Catholic Church; and culturally, by welcoming the Renaissance. Artists from Italy, Flanders and Germanic countries entered the service of the court to meet the new need for Royal portraits. It was at the confines of all these influences, in a country undergoing great upheavals, that the original forms of the English Renaissance were developed. This exhibition is the first in France on the subject.

The True Face of the Tudors
The exhibition brings together the most emblematic portraits of five Tudor sovereigns: Henry VII (the founder of the dynasty), Henry VIII, Edward VI (the child king), Mary I, and Elizabeth I (the Virgin Queen). In a striking confrontation with these flamboyant characters, visitors discover the English Renaissance, the practices and specificities of British art, at the same time as the great events which marked the history of this dynasty. As well as the portraits which reveal the true face of the Tudors, their spouses or their suitors and the sumptuous style of the court, the exhibition shows personal objects as witnesses of their life and times.

English Tudors and French Valois: Art and Diplomacy
The exhibition is an opportunity to explore the relationships between France and England throughout the 16th century. Often tense, wavering between open conflict and a search for alliances, these relationships gave rise to exchanges of artworks in which portraits, especially miniatures, played an essential role. Some works recall a few key episodes in the history of the diplomatic relationships between the two countries: the rivalry of Henry VIII and Francis I; their encounter on the field of the cloth of gold; fruitless plans to marry Elizabeth to one or other of the sons of Catherine de Medici; without forgetting the threat that the Queen of Scotland Mary Stewart, briefly Queen of France, held over Elizabeth’s reign.

The Construction of a Legend: From Stage to Screen
The exhibition is also an opportunity to explore the myth which has grown up around the dynasty, feeding on the excesses attributed to them and the contrast between Henry VIII’s many marriages and Elizabeth’s celibacy. This legend, still strong in the cinema and on television, took root in 19thcentury France, which had just discovered English history, Shakespeare and Walter Scott. In the heyday of history painting, the Tudors entered the Salon. It was above all on the stage of the great Parisian theatres that famous actors and actresses revived Henry VIII and his wives, Elizabeth and Mary Stewart, in plays by Victor Hugo or Alexandre Dumas, and operas by Gaetano Donizetti or Camille Saint-Saens. From the stage to the screen, there is only a short step, which Sarah Bernhardt took in 1917, as the first actress to incarnate Elizabeth in the history of cinema.

This exhibition benefits from an exceptional loan of some twenty flagship works from the National Portrait Gallery in London. It crowns a vast research programme carried out by that institution, along with a restoration campaign which has revived the original colours of some of the paintings. It includes works from many British collections including the British Royal Collection, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Trust, the Royal Armouries… as well as French institutions such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Musée du Louvre.


Curators: Charlotte Bolland, project curator for the Making Art in Tudor Britain project at the NPG, Tarnya Cooper, chief curator at the NPG and Cécile Maisonneuve, PhD in art history, art advisor to the Rmn-GP.
Scenography : Hubert Le Gall.

Laurent Brero