Embellishing the Royals

It has been a thrilling week for fans of British royal portraits. On January 11th, Paul Emsley’s portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, was unveiled to a generally appalled Great Britain. The complaints had little to do with Emsley’s style and technique, however, and focused mostly on the appearance of the Duchess. Viewers gasped at the sight of the Duchess’s fine wrinkles and sunspots, certainly a change from the usual paparazzi photos of the Duchess taken from a distance. Though critics have compared the portrait to the fresco of Jesus Christ restoration, the Duchess herself declared the portrait, “Amazing.”

Meanwhile, a banned portrait of Queen Elizabeth II has finally emerged after being locked away for 60 years. The portrait, commissioned in 1952, displays the young Queen with a neck that is supposedly “too long.” Due to the portrait’s divergence in likeness of the Queen, councilors hid it from public display. The portrait will now hang in St. George’s Hall to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation.

The coupling of these events is indicative of today’s beauty standards. While we ridicule Duchess Kate’s imperfections, we accept the portrait of the Queen that uses many common Photoshop techniques. Though Duchess Kate presumably oversaw the commissioning of the portrait and approves of the final product, critics can’t help but feel alarmed by her unaltered appearance. These critics struggle to accept that another person could be comfortable with aging. On the contrary, 1952 society may have been more abrasive towards unrealistic beauty standards. Today, we are used to seeing models and actresses Photoshopped to unrecognizable extents. In 1952, altering the Queen’s features was a national embarrassment. Although the 1952 portrait was unveiled under the guise of the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation, I can’t help but think that our immunity to enhanced photos also plays a role. A “too long” neck no longer shocks today’s society. What shock us are Duchess Kate’s wrinkles. While we dust off the Queen’s slightly embellished portrait, we hope that Duchess Kate’s is hidden for 60 years.

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