Hello I’m your host Janelle and in this episode I’m taking a little pause after my last episode on King George III and Queen Charlotte to discuss all the paintings I spotted in the Netflix show Queen Charlotte. As always you can view the images, transcript of this audio recording, and resources I discuss on my website www.boozyarthistorian.com. Right, now let’s get into the good stuff!
As per usual I was watching the Briderton based show and pretty much not paying attention to the dialogue and only paying attention to the wonderful interiors of each set. And of course this meant that I kept spotting some really great pieces of art in the background that get me really excited. So let’s talk about them!
I should mention that these are absolutely not in chronological show order, this is literally just what my brain caught as I was watching the show and sometimes I would be like oh wait there’s a better shot of that painting earlier on, so apologies for the sort of haphazardness of the images, but such is life. I also want to mention that I’m just going to describe to you where I saw the paintings because I don’t want Netflix coming after me for using screen shots of their show.
Ok Image 1, is from Queen Charlotte’s dressing room, which was that gorgeous yellowish gold wallpaper. And we have this lovely giant painting of a mother and daughter. Titled “Madame Marsollier and Her Daughter” the portrait shows Madame Marsollier getting ready for the day with her daughter. Much like I talked about in the Louis XIV episodes, the morning toilette was usually a feminine only sphere. It was a time that women could socialize and visit each other before the day’s activities. Which makes this work semi-private, which then makes sense for Charlotte’s room since it would have been a semi-private space. Only those close to Queen Charlotte or of a certain rank in nobility would’ve been allowed in this room. What I love about this painting is the drama behind it. Madame Marsollier had married a wealthy textile merchant as a way to gain funds that would then allow her children access into French aristocratic society. And it worked! Through this marriage her daughter, pictured here was able to marry the Marquis de Chamilly.
Interestingly the artist, Jean-Marc Nattier, was part of the French Royal Academy and made a series of drawings based off of the Marie de’Medici painting cycle by Rubens. Which I talk about in my “But I Digress” member’s only content. I can also understand why Madame Marsollier chose Nattier as the painter since he was renowned for his portraitures of female French courtiers. So by commissioning this portrait by him she’s showing the world that she’s worthy of being part of their society. Which is also another great tie in to Queen Charlotte, who was considered an outsider!
Ok next painting is actually one that I’ve talked about and I’m so curious as to why it was reused. Image 2 will look familiar to many of you because it’s the same portrait of a woman that hung in the Featherington’s Green Drawing Room. So why do we see this painting in Queen Charlotte’s blue Drawing Room, during one of the future scenes. These future scenes seem to be based maybe a year after Season 2 of Bridgerton, since people were suggesting online that the two children Violet Bridgerton is playing with are Daphne and Simon’s son and Anthony and Kate’s son. Which I would then assume is roughly right around the time of when Season 3 is supposed to take place. Now in Season 2 we know that the Featherington’s are coming up on hard times and the question I have, is this a hint as to what is going to be happening in the Featherington family next season? Did Lady Featherington sell the art to create funds so her and the girls can survive? I just have a lot of questions. Another less dramatic explanation is this is another tie in to Queen Charlotte’s supposed mercantile background. Where our sitter, is most likely a wife of a wealthy merchant from the Midlands. If anyone can give me an answer, please reach out to me. I would love to know more. But moving along to Image 3. Here we have Mary Capel the Duchess of Beaufort and her sister Elizabeth Countess of Carnarvon by Sir Peter Lely. For those of you who listened to my episodes on Bridgerton Season 1, you know that there was a lot of Van Dyck paintings, and what I love about this is that Lely actually ended up filling the void for English aristocratic portraiture after Van Dyck’s death. I also want to note the reason the set designers used this particular painting, which is in the hallway of Buckingham House, is that it is the perfect fit for Queen Charlotte, and King George III’s, love of botany. These two women were known for their beauty as well as brains, specifically when it came to botany. The sister on the left, Mary, was a major patron to botanical research, and her sister Elizabeth on the right was an accomplished botanist painter! So it’s a lovely tie in and I’m so glad I spotted this painting in the show.
Now with Image 4, I need to say that this is absolutely not the painting I saw in the show but I couldn’t find that one, which is in the art gallery that Violet and Agatha visit multiple times in the “future” scenes. But what I do know is that it definitely was inspired by this painting by Titian, titled “Venus of Urbino”. It is one of the most well recognized paintings by Titian and I would argue in the world. It lives in the Uffizi in Florence, so if you ever find yourself there, go have a look. But the reason I put these two together is because it ties in so nicely with the stories of Violet and Agatha and well Queen Charlotte as well. Women who are told nothing but how to be wives, and teaching women to be wives. Now for those of you who are questioning how on earth this naked woman is teaching the women viewing it how to be a good wife, I’ll explain. At the foot of the bed we have the little dog, which represents fidelity. This woman is being told to be true to her husband. She reclines, on a bed very much naked, perhaps having just consummated her marriage with her husband? Or is preparing herself for the consummation process? Which scholars can’t agree on because in the back window we can see the sky, and either it’s representing dusk or dawn. Then we have two servants in the back, in the same position as the mystery Bridgerton painting, who are preparing or putting away her clothing. Showing that she is a woman of status and shouldn’t be getting herself dressed, rather have servants or ladies in waiting do that for her. And last but not least, it is a classic example of the male gaze. Which Queen Charlotte, and all our female characters struggle with in the show, and I would argue in most society today. So anyway I think it’s safe to say I love this painting and I love that they put it into the show.
Ok Image 5, “God Holds Adam and Eve Responsible” by Adriaen van der Werff can also be found in the art gallery that Violet and Agatha visit. Van der Werff was one of the most celebrated painters in his day, and his art was purchased by all of Europe’s top aristocrats such as King Louis XVI and the Medici family. To be perfectly honest I’m not entirely sure why this painting is in the show. The painting is about Adam and Eve getting busted for eating from the tree of knowledge, but I’m not quite sure how that ties into any of the Bridgerton stories? Perhaps besides the Agatha Danbury drama? So if anyone has any theories, or even knows, please do let me know!!!
Right, on to Image 6, “Angelica and Medoro” by Jacques Blanchard. This was also spotted in the art gallery Violet and Agatha visit during the show. And this one I must admit is rather straight forward in explanation. Here we have two lovers carving their names in the bark of a tree, but what makes me immediately think of Violet Bridgerton is that the painting itself has obviously seen some wear and tear, which is normal for a work that’s almost 400 years old, so the lovers’ names on the painting have faded, making it for a wonderful representation of Violet’s current life. She misses her husband but also is ready to let things melt into the past, and this is a beautiful representation of that.
Now some of you may remember Image 7, which was in Season 1 of Bridgerton, specifically in the artist’s house that Benedict Bridgerton visits for the wild parties, and much like the paintings before, seen in the art gallery. In this painting we have “Cupid and Psyche” by Jacques-Louis David, and some of you may remember that name from my episode on Louis XVI and the Neoclassical movement. Again we see the theme of this scene is love and lust and how that fits into the feminine sphere as women age. I mean this is blatantly a painting about lust, but I want to talk about perhaps something that’s a little more uncomfortable, which is the supposed age gap between Cupid and Psyche. For those of you who don’t know the Greek story of Cupid and Psyche, the TLDR is that Cupid basically hides his identity from Psyche and visits her every night as a mysterious lover. Now what makes this uncomfortable is Cupid is supposed to be a very young boy, and Psyche is not equal in age. So that’s weird, but also it’s a Greek myth which is all kind of really weird and definitely not cool. But David put an interesting spin on this work and made Cupid appear much older than he was described in the books, I mean he’s still got this young man’s smirk which I think is a great nod at the original myth.
I wish I could say things changed thematically in Image 8 but I’m afraid not. Here we have another Greek myth involving sex and well not nice things. I’m going to pause and provide a trigger warning since I will be talking about some not nice things for a minute. Ok in this painting we have Aegina, daughter of the river god Aeopus, being visited by Jupiter aka Zeus. Now Zeus has disguised himself as an eagle and well, done the dirty with her and is now flying off. We have Aegina’s attendant coming in quickly to cover her shame, and protect the girl from the viewer’s gaze, making for a very dramatic scene. What is particularly offputting about this story, is that basically Zeus rapes and kidnaps Aegina and takes her to an island where she gives birth to a son who becomes king of the island she’s being held hostage at. Again, this is a pretty common storyline for Greek mythology, like Zeus really couldn’t keep it in his pants. It’s not cool, and unfortunately pretty much up until recent history we have these kinds of themes being painted and represented in art. Women being at the mercy of men, which honestly I feel ties in really nicely into this show, because we see all these women who are at the mercy of the men around them, or if they aren’t at the mercy of the men, they are forced to work around the patriarchal society which keeps them from reaching their full potential.
But the good news is that’s the last of the problematic paintings, more or less. And we move on to one of my favorite artists Thomas Gainsborough in Image 9. This particular painting is used throughout the Bridgerton universe, and I love it. It’s a great portrait, and it’s used in Bridgerton Season 2, which you can learn more about and a fun discovery I made about another portrait in Season 2 on my TikTok channel. This portrait of Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliot is a wonderful nod at a Bridgerton Season 1 favorite, van Dyck. Which you can see in the way Mrs. Elliot clutches the rich orange fabric of her dress to her chest. It’s a classic van Dyck pose. Mrs. Elliott was also quite a scandalous woman and while she was a Scottish lady of great beauty she had a lover, the marquis of Cholmondeley, who supposedly was the one who commissioned this portrait of her. Again we see this art gallery acting as a sort of representation of female desire and sexuality, which is something that I do applaud the show for taking on.
Ok the good news is Image 10 is actually not in the art gallery but rather hidden away in the background of George’s rooms. This little portrait of a woman by the same artist as before, Thomas Gainsborough. For those of you who are wondering why that name sounds familiar, I talk about him in the previous episode and how he received numerous commissions from the real King George III and Queen Charlotte. You can go back and listen to that episode to learn more about him and see some of his other works. In this portrait we have a wonderful scene where it feels like we, the viewers, have been walking along the path and have just come across this woman who has been reading by the creek. She’s holding her book as if we’ve just caught her off guard and she’s acknowledging our presence. It feels like a very intimate scene in the sense that it’s just us and her. The quiet tranquility of the outdoor space gives this sense of ease and relaxation, making it not only easy to stare at for ages, but also one that I think is well put in an inner room of Charlotte’s apartments at Buckingham House.
Now speaking of inner rooms, that brings me in nicely to the next painting in Image 11. Ok, so technically we didn’t see this painting, but where it should’ve been in the Bridgerton Blue Drawing Room, like it was in Season 1 and 2 of Bridgerton it’s been replaced with a portrait of a man and woman. Now I can’t help but wonder if the reason it doesn’t reside there anymore is due to the fact that Violet has shifted the purpose of the room, since it really isn’t about her family anymore but rather her relationship with her husband. From a historical perspective, this wouldn’t be usual since it was common to change out paintings and art objects, much like we do today. It wasn’t like you put something up and that was where it stayed forever and ever and ever. Interiors reflected what was going on with the people who resided there. Which is why art historians get so excited about paintings or depictions of rooms and how artwork was placed in it because it allows us to get a better understanding of social history and the personality of the collector.
But I digress. Now I have one last work to mention but it’s something that took me forever to place, which is in Image 12 we have one more Gainsborough portrait, which was in Charlotte’s bedroom. This was the kind of painting that bothered me because it didn’t look like a traditional Gainsborough portrait like the others, and it was very much a wake up at 4am and go “oh my god I know exactly where I know that painting from”. Much like other pieces we’ve seen in Charlotte’s bedroom, this is a portrait of a woman who was associated with mercantile wealth. This portrait of Mary Little is a wedding portrait to commemorate her marriage to Robert Carr, who was a mercer, aka a fabric dealer. Which explains her sumptuous dress, and lovely lace details. Gainsborough also highlighted her outfit as part of the portrait, showing off her dress made in the latest fashion. And with that I have reached the end of this episode. I hope you all enjoyed the paintings that caught my eye, and if you have any that you would like me to go back and discuss please do let me know!
And as always should you have any questions, comments, or thoughts you can DM me on Instagram @boozyarthistorian. You can also find me on TikTok where in each video I pair a work of art or an artist to a cocktail! Thanks for listening in and see you next time.