Prejudice & Pride at Hanbury
50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, as part of the ‘Prejudice & Pride’ celebration – we looked at the heritage of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) through the dramatic Thornhill paintings that adorn the staircase and ceilings at Hanbury Hall.
The Secret of the Wall Paintings
Achilles and Patroclus
The legend of Achilles is amongst the oldest in Greek mythology. It owes its fame largely to Homer’s Iliad, which tells the tale not of the capture of Troy but instead of the wrath of Achilles during the campaign which almost led to the loss of the Greek army.
Although not depicted in detail in the paintings on the staircase, it is the story of Achilles and Patroclus which is of great significance. Their friendship was proverbial and it was said that the bond between them was deeper than that of simple friendship.
The single scene which is depicted at Hanbury, shows a battle worn Achilles sulking in his tent. After ten years of war and bloodshed on the beaches of Troy, Achilles throws down his sword and retires to his tent refusing to fight any longer for Agamemnon and the Greeks. Instead it is Patroclus who, disguised as Achilles, forges into battle in a moment of glory, only to be killed by Hector, Son of Troy. Ultimately, it is his death that becomes the motivation for Achilles to leave his tent and return to the war, to avenge the death of his lover, even though he knows it will cost him his life.
The Court of Queen Anne
Look more closely at the scene of Achilles hiding within the court of Lycomedes, and notice the hidden depiction of the Stuart court of Queen Anne (1702-1714). Centre is Achilles, a great warrior, dressed as a woman with the face of Sarah Churchill. To her right, the woman dressed in green is thought to be Queen Anne herself, with the young woman next to her, Abigail Masham the woman who replaced Sarah in the Queen’s affections.
Although no one can be entirely sure of the nature of the relationship between these women, evidence of Anne's intense affection towards Sarah is well documented in hundreds of ‘love letters’ which were exchanged between the two. These letters are said to have contained ‘passionate outpourings of devotion’ throughout a friendship which lasted twenty-five years.
Nevertheless, like many epic love stories, towards the end of Anne’s reign, Sarah fell out of favour due to their petty arguments. She was finally dismissed from court after a violent quarrel in 1710. After they fell out, Sarah’s distant cousin Abigail Masham replaced her in Anne’s affections.
World is Chaos, Creativity is Order
As part of ‘World is Chaos, Creativity is Order’ Trust New Art project, artists considered the chaotic nature of the world at the turn of the eighteenth century. With uncertainty surrounding monarchic dynasty, political corruption and threat of invasion from Europe, we’ve been asking just how much has changed in 300 years?
One of our artists, Tom Marshman looked at the concept from an LGBTQ perspective, focusing on ideas of the chaotic nature of love and desire, in particular the stories hidden within Hanbury’s impressive Thornhill paintings.
Tom’s interest is in the mundane and ‘trashy’ but picking up on the same sex relationships between Queen Anne, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Masham, hidden within the mythological scenes, his work is moving, tender and reveals more than expected..
Orlando: The Queer Element
“An hour may lodge in the queer element of the human spirit and stretch” - Virginia Woolf
One of the highlights of Hanbury’s LGBTQ celebration was the two evenings of immersive, theatrical performance inspired by Virginia Woolf’s historic novel, Orlando.
Orlando: The Queer Element, took audiences along on Orlando’s turbulent journey spanning 400 years, exploring the instability and changing perspectives on gender and sexuality.
This production by Clay & Diamonds in collaboration with the British Film Institute and Fourth Monkey Training Company took place in the house and gardens at Hanbury Hall.