Downton Abbey and Stuart iconography?

January 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

The second episode of Downton Abbey aired last night on Masterpiece here in the United States–the one where the Turk dies of a heart attack in Lady Mary’s bedroom. In one of the dining room scenes, did I imagine seeing one of the Van Dyck (I think) portraits of Charles I on horseback hanging on the wall? Thought I spied it in a shot of the Earl of Grantham that’s arranged like a kind of portrait itself. The earl’s sitting at the head of table, facing the camera. Behind him, a dark and weighty painting whose subject looks a lot like Charles  seems to press down on his head.

At a minimum, the mise-en-scene is suggestive of the earl’s relationship to the past. If the subject of the painting really is Charles I, seems to be a deliberate comment on similarities between the earl and the king. But then again, the painting may depict some duke of something or other . We see what we want to see…

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