jueves, 8 de marzo de 2012

Mantegna, Caravaggio and the enchanted Hampton Court

*To my English readers: I apologize for every mistake. Please be aware I am a Spanish writer who translates what you have asked for. (Versión en castellano 1/12/10)

Departing from London, the train arrives at Hampton Court (20 km from Waterloo) in 40 minutes. You can get to the palace after a few minutes walking through the bridge. The entry was 16 pounds but I paid just 12 because of my student card. Lucky girl!

Main gate of Hampton Court.
The main attraction of Hampton Court is Henry VIII, the second monarch of the House of Tudor, famous for his obesity, his six wives and the ease with which he sentenced to death his wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, as well as his friend Thomas Moro and his counselors the cardinal Wolsey and Cromwell. But this excessive man was also the King who laid the foundations of the current United Kingdom: he cut the ties with the Catholic Church because the Pope of Rome wouldn’t allow him to divorce Catherine of Aragon, his Catholic wife for 20 years. Subsequently, Henry VIII established himself as the head of the Church of England, a rule that led to the present Queen Elisabeth II.

The palace under the snow.
Henry VIII was a controversial man and a fascinating King, and Hampton Court was his residence, expanded and embellished with works of art, furniture and tapestries. The King did order to build a huge kitchen with capacity of cooking for 600 people every day, a great place even nowadays. Hampton Court would surprise you with the apartments of Henry VIII, Mary II, William III, the Royal Chapel and the Georgian rooms, along with gardens. Walking leisurely among those walls would take more than four hours of your time.

'The triumphs of Caesar', by Mantegna (detail).
At Hampton Court, there is another treasure: the series of paintings The triumphs of Caesar, by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506). No visitor is allowed to take pictures, even if they are taken without flash. The paintings show a triumphal procession of Caesar, who appears in the last scene. Today we are accustomed to the iconography and colors, figures and landscapes we are familiar to, but at the time Mantegna -mid-15th century- painted those temples, columns and capitals, the world did know very few details of the classical Rome. These paintings entered the British Crown with Charles I, the only executed English king. He was an authoritarian monarch who refused to give in to Parliament and led the country into a civil war, which he lost along with the head. 
'St. Jerome' (l) and 'Boy peeling fruit' (r) at Hampton Court.
But Charles I was also an art lover who bought and cherished works throughout Europe, which means that at Hampton Court there are now Caravaggios, George La Tour, the works of Mantegna and many scattered for other palaces, owned today by Elizabeth II. In that room, just to the right and the left of the fireplace, remain the Boy peeling fruit (1592-93) by Caravaggio and St. Jerome reading, by La Tour.
'The family of Henry VIII' (1545) by an unknown painter.
It is said that Hampton Court is an enchanted palace, specially the gallery where visitors can watch the painting The family of Henry VIII. For decades it was believed the spirit of Catherine Howard - the wife Henry VIII murdered accusing her of adultery - was wandering by the palace. It is true that she was locked in a room at Hampton Court, which she escaped from to see her husband to ask for clemency, but the guards caught her in a hallway. It is in this corridor where they say their screams have been heard and have emerged traces of what looks like blood. In 2001, Queen Elizabeth II appointed a group of scientists to detect paranormal activity at the palace. Experts saw unexplained things and watched videos featuring a figure of a woman.

In my visit to Hampton Court I did not see any ghost, although I was alone several minutes taking pictures of myself in front of the mysterious painting, the work of an unknown artist from 1545. The oil painting is a little bit odd: in the center poses Henry VIII, sitting between his only male son, Prince Edward; and his daughter Elizabeth, the future Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. To the left, his other daughter, the Princess Mary, who will become Queen of England after the death of the young heir. On the right, Jane Seymour -who was already dead-, mother of Crown Prince. In the background there are two figures, one of which holds a monkey.