The Arnolfini portrait, painted by Jan van Eyck in 1434, is one of the world's most famous paintings. This haunting gem of medieval art, a subtle and beautiful portrait of a wealthy Bruges merchant and his wife, intrigues all who see it.
Is the painting the celebration of marriage or pregnancy, a memorial to a wife who died in childbirth, a fashion statement or a status symbol? Using her acclaimed forensic skills as an art historian, Carola Hicks set out to decode the mystery.
She also tells the fascinating story of the painting's survival through fire and battle, and of its owners. Uniquely, for a masterpiece of its age, its provenance can be tracked through every single owner - from the mysterious Mr Arnolfini via various monarchs to being an early star of the National Gallery in 1842- and these owners have a cameo appearance too, in this enthralling story of how an artwork of genius can speak afresh to each new generation.
Each year more than 250,000 people visit the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, one of Europe's best-known buildings. This book tells the untold story of the Chapel's crowning glory, its stained glass windows, and of the people who created them - the triumphant culmination of a project completed despite wars, the death of kings and violent religious conflict. The glass symbolises the power of the Tudors, and is a mirror of their souls. Planned by Henry VII and continued by Henry VIII, the windows are dynastic propaganda, simultaneously blatant and subtle, boasting the ancient lineage of an upstart monarchy. Their unfolding scenes honoured the Catholic faith that Henry VIII was challenging in the 1530s, when he made himself head of the church to marry Anne Boleyn. The windows show how Henry commemorated his wives in art, then airbrushed them out when they fell from favour, and how he recruited leading artists to make this England's response to the Sistine Chapel.
The great 'King's Glass' also flaunts the skills of its makers, many of them innovative immigrants. It is a tale of guilds and artisans as well as of the court. It is, too, a history of England, reflecting change, conflict and modernity in the sixteenth century. Exploring the stories behind these luminous treasures, this fascinating book, as vivid as a novel, uncovers the power struggles behind the beauty of the past.
The vivid scenes on the Bayeux Tapestry depict the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. It is one of Europe's greatest treasures and its own story is full of drama and surprise.
Who commissioned the tapestry? Was it Bishop Odo, William's ruthless half-brother? Or Harold's dynamic sister Edith, juggling for a place in the new court? Hicks shows us this world and the miracle of the tapestry's making: the stitches, dyes and strange details in the margins. For centuries it lay ignored in Bayeux cathedral until its 'discovery' in the eighteenth century. It became a symbol of power as well as art: townsfolk saved it during the French Revolution; Napoleon displayed it to promote his own conquest; the Nazis strove to make it their own; and its influence endures today.
This marvellous book, packed with thrilling stories, shows how we remake history in every age and how a great work of art has a life of its own.