Queen Victoria

Franz Xaver Winterhalter  Oil  1843

Today we celebrate the birthday of Queen Victoria, who was born this day in 1819.  Sorry to the folks in Canada and Scotland that celebrated on Monday as a bank holiday.  I guess you’ll all be at work today and can’t read this anyway.

Her Majesty Victoria, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland Queen, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India was born fifth in line to the crown.  Just months before her 18th birthday, her uncle, King William IV, was the last man standing between her and the crown.  He swore to her he would stay alive until her 18th birthday so her mother (his sister-in-law) would not be regent.  He kept his promise, and died a month after her birthday.

However, even as a queen she needed a chaperone as she wasn’t married.  She wasn’t thrilled about her mother living with her.  Her mother’s overbearing “advisor” (most likely lover) was unwelcome and powerful, a dangerous combination.

The best remedy to an overbearing mother living with you is to get married.  Victoria’s beloved Uncle Leopold (her mother’s brother), King of Belgium, put forth his nephew Prince Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.  Yep, that was her first cousin.

The Queen had always enjoyed his company and found him handsome and intelligent.  They were married in 1840 and had nine children and 32 grandchildren.  Theirs was a love affair of the ages.

The Victorian age is generally known for its extreme modesty.  This is mostly given to the fact that the Queen was raised in practical seclusion with intense rules set forth by her mother to avoid any scandal to ensure she would be queen.  That’s why this painting is so fascinating to me.

This oil painting was only recently unveiled at Buckingham Palace.  The Queen commissioned it herself as a gift to her husband, Albert.  It was painted in 1843 by renowned royal painter Franz Xaver  Winterhalter.

Winterhalter was the court painter of King Louis-Philippe of France, but painted portraits for several royal families around the world.  He was in demand all around the globe, including Russia and Mexico.   He painted over 120 portraits for the English royal family during Victoria’s reign.

Queen Victoria was 24 when she sat for this painting.  It reminds me a bit of those “boudoir” photos that have become popular recently.  It’s meant for her husband alone, and it shows a side of her only he should see.

It’s not so much the amount of skin shown, as the off the shoulder costume was quite popular, but other aspects that would have made it quite scandalous (at least to her mother).  The necklace rests on her chest, which draws your eyes down the pristine white skin.  Of course, she’s completely covered.  The hair seems almost carelessly tossed over one shoulder and lands near the necklace as well.

Her look is far off and wistful, longing.  She is not a queen in this portrait.  She is a young wife.

Queen Victoria reigned for over 63 1/2 years before her death at age 81.  Until this year when her great-great granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II surpassed her, she was the longest reigning monarch in history.  She is most commonly known for her long mourning period after the death of her husband.  She continued to wear black from the time of his death in 1861 until her own death in 1901.  She was buried in white, by her own request.

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty.





Death of the Pharaoh’s Firstborn Son

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema  Oil Painting  1872

There are two sides to every story.  Realistically, there are multiple views to every story.

And Moses said, “Thus says Yahweh, ‘About the middle of the night I will go out through the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt will die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the slave woman who is behind the pair of millstones and every firstborn animal. And there will be a great cry of distress in all the land of Egypt, the like of which has not been nor will be again.   Exodus 11: 4-6*

Tonight Jews and (some) Christians celebrate Passover.  They remember the actions of Moses and Aaron  that led to the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  They thank God for persuading the pharaoh to free them.  However, we may want to take a moment to remember the “persuasion” tactics.

Read the quote above a second time.  Yes, he was enslaving what’s said to be hundreds of thousands of people.  Yes, he had nine plagues before this to free the slaves.  Yes, he was duly warned.  And yes, he was a father.  He mourned bitterly for the death of his son, as did every other non-Israelite in all of Egypt.

Think about that.  Think of every father and mother, brother and sister, grandparent, friend.  Think of every innocent child.   “And there will be a great cry of distress in all the land of Egypt, the like of which has not been nor will be again.”

When Passover is celebrated this evening we’ll thank God for passing over the doors of those that made the sacrifice of the lamb and marked their lintels with the blood.  We’ll thank God for being delivered from slavery.  We’ll thank God for sending Moses and Aaron to lead.  I ask that everyone also take one moment to remember the loss of children, the innocents who were sacrificed due to the decision of one man and one God.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tedama was a Dutch painter who moved to England in his early 30s.  He lived there the rest of his life and eventually earned partial rights as a British denizen.  Classically trained, he is most well known for his wonderful paintings of classic Greece and Rome.  Although generally considered a Victorian painter, he knew many of the most influential Pre-Raphaelites and was obviously influenced by their work.

I find this painting of the pharaoh with his dead son in his arms so striking.  I know it doesn’t seem to fit the occasion, but as I mentioned at the beginning, every story has two sides.  The child’s mother has collapsed on her son.  The servants wail and mourn the loss.  In the background dancers and musicians play.  And in the upper right corner, Moses and Aaron await the decision of the pharaoh to let their people go.  I like to believe they also said a prayer for those lost.

The deep gold tones of this painting really set the mood.  The candles are well represented as the light sources and cast eerie shadows.  The pale skin of the dead child and his grief stricken mother draw your eye directly to them, then straight up to the face of the pharaoh, stunned, shocked at the pain.  He has decided the God of the Jews is strong.  He will let the people go.

Sorry to make this one so gloomy.  It really is a day of celebration.  Chag Pesach Sameach.  Happy Passover.

*I prefer the Lexham English Bible translation.  I also realize that for many this is not a historical story, but a myth or fairytale.  I think it really doesn’t matter how you look at the story, as long as you think about the fact that every decision made has a consequence, good or bad.

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