Up until the 18th century mourning was a luxury enjoyed (sic) mainly by royalty and those with sufficient aristocratic pedigrees. When Sir Henry Unton, a mere Ambassador, MP and civil servant extraordinaire, died of bubonic plague while in the queen’s service in 1596 he was accorded a baron’s funeral for services rendered, a full two stations higher than his own of Knight. His widow assures that this momentous honor will not be forgotten by her neighbors, had a brilliant and surreal panel painted depicting his birth, life, achievments, but mainly his oh-so-glorious death which takes up a good three-quarters of the panel. His death, including maladie, doctoring, dying, sailing back to England in a black sailed mourning ship, the above mentioned mile long funeral procession and packed church, ends with his tomb, upon which he rests rather cheerfully, looking as if he were resting in a field of daisies, the Widow Unton looming over him like a spider. All of this layed out rather counter-intuitively from right (birth) to left (entombment).
- Sir Henry Unton Resource: Nifty teaching tool that examines each little part of the painting. Please complete the workbook at the end of each section and submit.
- Sir Henry Unton (1557-1596): at the National Portrait Gallery
- Source: National Portrait Gallery Visitor’s Guide, Revised 2006
While my main focus here is French mourning, I mention Sir Henry because the painting is so very cool. Well, that and the further you go back in time, the more difficult it is to dig up the evidence on google. French and English customs have long been in a neck and neck horse race. One is never far behind the other, and so too goes the mourning customs. That there is my excuse for rambling on about the very awesome Life and Death of Sir Henry Unton (which I didn’t actually find on google, but saw rather in person during a recent visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London).
So here I depart from England.