Britain is consumed in 'Royal Wedding' excitement, following the announcement of Prince William's engagement to Kate Middleton. (Me too, actually. I think it's lovely, a welcome change from gloom and budget cuts - and they both seem such nice young people.) It seems a good moment to look back to another royal love story.
This is a well-known painting of the young Queen Victoria by Franz Winterhalter. Described by Richard Dorment in a review in the Daily Telegraph as "... a love letter. In 1843, Victoria commissioned Winterhalter to paint her portrait in an oval format as a birthday present for Albert. In it the 24-year-old Queen is shown in what looks like her nightdress, with her loosened hair falling over one bare shoulder. In case the recipient missed the point, her eyes are raised in adoration, and her lips are slightly parted. We recognise at once the private signals a wife gives to a husband. This is how only Albert will see her."
When I was privileged to see this in an exhibition at the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace, I did find it an astonishing painting, picturing Victoria as I have never though of her before. It was touching to see her portrayed as an open-minded young woman, passionate - sexy even. We so often see her as the older matriarch, dressed in her widow's black. The more I find out about Victoria and the Victorian era, the more intrigued I am. We sometimes think of it as a restrictive, stuffy, overblown period of our history and there are many aspects that we seem to feel (perhaps rightly) ashamed of. Yet it was also a time of enormous change and social and economic development that has bequeathed us a heritage to be proud of - in Saltaire and elsewhere. It would be good to think that we might have another such creative time - under King William and Queen Katherine perhaps?