Is the royal baby going to have a portrait as bad as his mother's? Yes, probably — and there's nothing we can do to stop it. There's a
column plea in The Guardian by art critic Jonathan Jones asking for a new kind of royal baby portrait, one that actual depicts the baby as, you know, a baby:
Even though Bronzino and Holbein capture the face of infancy, they do not show their subjects as helpless babies: in royal art of the past, even toddlers must have something about them of a grownup monarch
Jones urges the painter to capture the haplessness of the royal baby, who was born on Monday to Prince William and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, with great worldwide fanfare. What Jones is pushing back against are paintings like this one, from the acclaimed German artist Hans Holbein depicting Edward VI:
Edward is sort of cute (look at those bangs), but he's a little too grown-up and posing in a way that babies simply never do. He looks more like he's about to deliver an address or royal proclamation than a carefree child who has no care in the world. And anyone who's ever been around children knows it near impossible to get a young child (Edward is said to have been two at the time of the painting) to sit in a pose for very long. Holbein's portrait isn't the only one showing a young person posing way too maturely. Here's Stephen Poyntz Denning's painting of the Queen (then a princess) Victoria:
Seriously? It's a stunning portrait, but again, that is one very stern-looking child. She sorta looks like a Dowager Countess of Grantham-in-training. "She is dressed in an oppressively formal way, in dark clothes that anticipate her mature image – a childhood lost to royal destiny," Jones writes. We agree. She looks sorta miserable.
Obviously, we live in a different time than Victoria and Edward. And there will be no shortage of pictures showing off the new royal baby in all its royal haplessness (see: Prince William, right) to compare the official portrait to. Ergo, it'll be a given that whoever paints the royal baby will be scrutinized without end.
That's sort of what happened to artist Paul Emsley, who was commissioned to paint Kate Middleton. This past January, Emsley unveiled a "mature"-looking Kate, a depiction that was judged harshly by many people not named Prince William (who, to be fair, probably has a royal obligation to be polite).
In fact, there are already many unofficial portraits in circulation (like this creeptastic creation). This one from Reddit captures a haplessness, but probably under-delivers on the baby's human aspect:
And college campuses across America, would approve of this one:
But they're not exactly what Jones is looking for (or are they?). Jones wants a painter like Paula Rego (whose art is marked by "suppressed violence, cruelty and subversive humour" The Guardian's Maya Jaggi wrote in 2004) to essentially hang out with the baby for the next year. "Set someone to work next week. Let them draw the baby over the next 12 months and create a startling, honest image of a royal infant. It could be electrifying."
Get to it, Brits. The world awaits.
Images via Wikimedia Commons and the AP
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.