Sunday, March 30, 2014

Object of the Day: “Fair Rosamond” by J. Lewis Marks, 1820

One day, in a small antique store of no great substance, I stumbled upon a rack labeled “Framed Old Prints.” This particular item caught my eye. I could tell that the engraving had been hand-colored after the printing process and was pleased to make out the artist’s name, barely hidden by the frame. “London, by J.L. Marks, 91 Long Lane Smithfield.” I recognized that as being J. Lewis Marks, the famed print publisher of the early Nineteenth Century. I quickly made the purchase.

The colors are remarkably bright and there’s little foxing on this beautiful engraving which still sports its original, beveled, ebonized frame. The subject is the “Fair Rosamond.” Rosamond Clifford (1150-1176)—famed for her beauty—was the mistress of England’s King Henry II. She was known as “Rose of the World.” So many legends and tales surround the beautiful Rosamond, that it’s difficult to separate the fact from the fiction. Some believe that she bore Henry II two sons. Other say she did not. What we do know for a fact is that her adulterous relationship with the King ended badly. Their affair ended in 1174 when the public became aware of it. Henry’s wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, had a lot to do with making sure Rosamond was removed from Henry’s life. The young woman was sent to a nunnery where she died two years later. Her remains were initially buried in Convent Church of Godstow in a tomb paid for by Henry himself. Her tomb became a popular shrine. However, in 1191 (two years after Henry’s death), her remains were moved to a field near the church to show young women that adultery was wrong.

The legend of Fair Rosamond lived on, however. It became a popular theme in Elizabethan culture and continued to be a part of English lore well into the late Victorian period. Many paintings, poems, books and songs were inspired by the tragic beauty of Rosamond Clifford. This water-colored engraving is one of them. In her cobalt blue and violet gown, she looks to the left, eternally entreating those around her to admire her regal beauty.

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