Unveiled: royalty, romance and politics

In conjunction with Unveiled: 200 years of Wedding Fashion from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Te Papa is delighted to present a series of lectures that explores aspects of the social worlds covered by this glamorous exhibition.
The lecture by Eugene Barilo von Reisberg on Saturday 10 December  (10.30am), hosted by the Friends of Te Papa, focuses on Queen Victoria and the love of her life, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Their story is one of the great romances of the 19th century.
Queen Victoria in her wedding attire. This painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter was commissioned in 1947 as a wedding anniversary gift to Prince Albert.

Queen Victoria in her wedding attire. This painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter was commissioned in 1947 as a wedding anniversary gift to Prince Albert. Royal Collection.

The young Queen avidly recorded details of her wedding to her ‘precious Angel’  in her journal, including descriptions of her wedding attire and her whirling emotions. On the evening of her wedding she confided:

‘My dearest dearest dear Albert… his excessive love and affection gave me feelings of heavenly love and happiness,  I never could have hoped to have felt before! Oh! This is the happiest day of my life! 10 February, 1840

As the exhibition’s curator Edwina Ehrman writes, Queen Victoria’s selection of a creamy white satin court dress for her marriage was a ‘defining moment in the history of the white wedding dress in Britain’.

Queen Victoria’s choice was a political decision. Very much a woman in love, the 20 year old Queen wanted to make her wedding vows as a future wife, not as the monarch.  For this reason she shunned the crimson velvet robe of state (which she is wearing in the image below) in favour of a court dress, which she wore not with a crown but a wreath of artifical orange blossom. Political savvy also guided the Queen’s choice of Franz Xaver Winterhalter as the couple’s favourite portrait painter.

We would like to invite you to join visiting art historian Eugene Barilo von Reisberg for a fascinating adventure in royal iconography as he explores the hidden meanings and semantic connotations in Winterhalter’s portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and unpicks a secret language of visual symbolism in the details of dress, jewellery, and accessories that transmit messages of power, sovereignty, love, and devotion. 

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Queen Victoria, 1843, oil on canvas. (c) Collection of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Eugene Barilo von Reisberg is a Melbourne-based arts writer, curator, and blogger. His expertise on Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873), a nineteenth-century German-born international court portraitist, is widely recognised, and he has contributed numerous articles and presented papers on the artist in Australia and internationally. He is currently pursuing a doctoral thesis on the artist at the University of Melbourne. He is visiting to Wellington to take part in the Australian and New Zealand Association of Art History conference being hosted by Victoria University.

To book a ticket to ‘So Like & So Beautifully Painted: Portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert by Franz Xaver Winterhalter’ contact the Friends of Te Papa. Unveiled opens the following weekend – tickets are currently on sale through the website.

In the meantime I can recommend a visit to The ‘other’ royal weddings, an entertaining and informative blog by Royal Historic Palaces. It includes a video interview with curator Dr Joanna Marschner on Royal wedding dresses through the ages, a post on ‘the worst wedding of all’,  and delves into the history of cake!

One Response

  1. Love Quotes

    Interesting that she chose to be married in a court dress than the crimson of royalty… I never knew that before.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)