Queen’s coronation remembered in Buckingham Palace show

The Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace

The coronation dress of Queen Elizabeth II is displayed at Buckingham Palace as part of an exhibition to mark the coronation’s 60th anniversary. Photo © Press Association. Photo source: The British Monarchy.

Note: The article below is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Queen’s coronation takes centre stage in Buckingham Palace’s summer show” was written by Maev Kennedy, for The Guardian on Thursday 25th July 2013 23.01 UTC

The magnificent coronation robe for which scores of ermine laid down their lives, their snow-white fur and black-tipped tails bordering a sweep of purple velvet embroidered in 18 colours of gold, has been laid out in its full 6.5-metre splendour at Buckingham Palace for the first time since June 1953, when the first television cameras to record such an event tracked its stately progress down the aisle of Westminster Abbey.

There was only one possible subject for this year’s special exhibition when the Queen leaves for her holidays and the house opens to the public for two months. It is the events of the summer 60 years ago, when crowds packed the rain-soaked streets of London, and thousands of households spent the price of a very good holiday – around 60 guineas – on their first television sets to follow every detail of Elizabeth II’s coronation, from the dazzling gowns by Sir Norman Hartnell to the floral decorations designed by Constance Spry arched across the streets on the procession route. In the wake of the anniversary celebrations and the royal baby hysteria, the palace is expecting record crowds.

“So much of the event is familiar to people from films and photographs,” curator Caroline de Guitaut said, “but I hope people will be surprised and pleased by the bringing together for the first time since that day of so many of the grand formal uniforms and robes, and very personal and intimate objects.”

The objects on display include the Queen’s own copy of the coronation service, which she inscribed that night at Buckingham Palace and placed in the library at Windsor Castle. It is on display beside the coronation oath, which she signed with what must be the blotchiest, most awkward signature of her long reign. The explanation might be down to the beautiful but impossibly shaped gold, enamel and ivory pen, specially presented for the ceremony by the Guild of Scriveners: it is as flat as a coffee stirrer, and as the signature proves, no fun to write with.

A selection of the dazzling gowns and robes, coronets and tiaras, knee breeches and velvet tail coats which filled the abbey now fills the ballroom at the palace, grouped around one huge central glass case containing the Queen’s gown and the velvet robe. It took the Royal School of Needlework 3,500 hours to complete the golden wheat ears and olive branches, symbols of peace and prosperity, on the purple velvet robe.

Sir Norman Hartnell’s original design for the dress had silver embroidered roses, thistles, leeks and shamrocks. It was the Queen’s idea to add colour and Commonwealth plants, so among the folds there are also lotus flowers, teazles, flax and maple leaves. Just visible, under one arm and almost hidden by the robe, he turned one of the shamrocks into a lucky four-leaf clover: he claimed he embroidered that himself, though De Guitaut has doubts – it matches too closely the embroidery by his renowned team.

The dress and robe are surrounded by glorious dresses also by Hartnell, each in De Guitaut’s opinion subtly expressing the personality of the wearer: Princess Margaret’s, with a heavily embroidered bust, has a touch of the showgirl about it.

His designs for the maids of honour show that in 1953 Hartnell had to consider the Pippa Middleton effect: they would mainly be seen, by both Abbey guests and television cameras, from behind. Two, treasured for the past 60 years, have been loaned by the anonymous original owners from among the bevy of willowy titled gels, in family diamonds and pearls only slightly less splendid than the Queen’s. The fronts of the dresses are lovely: the heavily embroidered backs, with brilliant seaming which gave them both tiny waists and voluptuous curves, are stupendous.

The palace’s vast supper room has been converted into a cinema showing newsreel and television film of the day. The formal events, including the great carriage processions to and from the abbey, cover one whole wall.

Opposite it, shown on replica 1950s television sets, there are the street parties, bunting festooned houses, processions, fancy dress competitions – including one anxious little boy uncomfortably wearing a large box labelled “first television” – and friends and neighbours crammed into small rooms to watch the brand new sets which would dominate domestic life for the rest of the Queen’s reign. One of the BBC’s original cameras which made the live broadcast possible is also on display.

In the green drawing room, a home movie shows the Duke of Edinburgh, arms flailing, struggling to round up all the uncles and aunts, cousins and in-laws, all upholstered in medals, sashes and flashing diamonds, for a group photograph. At the front of the group two diminutive figures in white, Charles and Anne, are covering their faces with their hands and peeping through their fingers. An inaudible stern word from the Queen above them, and they snap to attention.

In the throne room, another of the iconic images of the day is displayed on an easel: Cecil Beaton’s haunting photograph of the Queen, crowned and carrying the orb and sceptre, behind her the shadowy vaulted mass of Westminster Abbey where almost 1,000 years of her predecessors came to be crowned.

Another photograph shows how the image was achieved: the Queen still comfortably at home, the Abbey a backdrop on her own wall. It was going to be a very long day, photographer and monarch needed to conserve their energy wherever possible.

The Queen’s Coronation 1953 will run at Buckingham Palace from 27 July-29 September

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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