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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

British School, 16th century

The Field of the Cloth of Gold c. 1545

RCIN 405794

Wolsey Room 1, Hampton Court Palace

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This painting celebrates the meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I at the Field of the Cloth of Gold near Calais (7-24 June, 1520). The painting contains three portraits of the English king: riding on horseback in the left foreground; watching the jousting in a tournament field in the right-hand distance and, most importantly, meeting Francis I in the gold tent in the centre background.

The painting is not recorded in the 1542 inventory of Henry VIII but this might be because it was set into the walls of Whitehall Palace. It was probably commissioned by Henry VIII to commemorate the lavish event and to emphasise the richness of the English camp in comparison with the smaller-seeming French camp in the distance.

The canvas around Henry VIII’s head has been cut out and replaced with an ‘updated’ portrait, probably following Holbein’s 1537 portrait-type (from the Whitehall Mural).
The painting has historical and physical inaccuracies (for example the procession riding through a gateway has no realistic point of exit) but gives an idea of the magnificently lavish English camp, with a temporary palace and fountains spurting wine and beer, as well as a jousting field and a firework in the shape of a salamander.