Chetna Prakash

Royal christening photos – why should a monarch appear mortal?

Image: AAP


Chetna Prakash disagrees with Guardian’s Jonathan Jones on the emptiness of the official royal christening photos, calling him to judge them on their own merits.

Princess Charlotte christening

So Princess Charlotte was christened. Kate wore an Alexander McQueen coat and the family trapezed about pushing “that” pram. The royals then dutifully got their official portraits taken by the celebrity photographer Mario Testino and released four: one formal family photo and three intimate ones. Back at the venerable offices of The Guardian, Jonathan Jones, the resident art writer, took one look at the photos, vomited all over his keyboard and pressed publish. Jones’ main complaint is the vapidity and emptiness of the photos.

The intimate – supposedly honest – photos particularly got his goat. Testino, in his efforts to present the Royals as impossibly perfect, had missed the opportunity to present something authentic, real and complex. After all, authentic and real would invariably mean revealing imperfections because who is perfect, after all? Jones draws a comparison between a painting by Zoffany of the sons of George III, which I assume is this, and Goya’s portrait of the family of Charles IV of Spain. He praised the first for showing “the burdens and stresses of royal childhood in a genuinely humanising way,” and the second for revealing the subjects as “mortal and fallible human beings.”

I completely agree with Jones on Zoffany and Goya’s works. Yes, they gave us a glimpse of the humanity behind the glamour: the burdens, the pains, the expectations and the inevitable failures that they carried on their selves. I still steadfastly prefer to see Will and Kate as glossy, pretty creatures of magazine advertisement variety. Zoffary’s painting goes back to 1760 and Goya’s to 1800. Being a monarch back then meant something more than ribbon-cutting and being brand ambassadors for luxury goods. They faced decisions, which carried consequences not just for themselves, but for vast swathes of people way beyond the narrow margins of their palaces and often even kingdoms. Zoffany brought out the “burdens and stresses” of royal childhood because that childhood was a precursor to a burdensome life. We were interested in the “mortal and fallible” aspects of the family of Charles V precisely becauseto many, they were all powerful and untouchable.

What real burden does Prince William carry? He has no duties of governance. He has a day job, but it is not his bread and butter. He got to marry the woman he loved and everyone loves her. He has sired the boy that will carry the monarchy forward, and even if he hadn’t, it wouldn’t have been of any real consequence. His only possible worry is that he never mouths an opinion and dares to act on it, lest he throws the country into a constitutional crisis. (His father Prince Charles is constantly paying the price for such indiscretions). Let’s face it, the royals are paid to remain vapid and dumb. Given how muzzled and impotent the monarchy has become, what does it matter whether they are mortal and fallible. They hold little power over our lives. In absence of any real responsibilities, the burdens they face would invariably relate to their domestic arrangements. Who came to the hunt, who didn’t? Who curtsied, who didn’t? Which set of grandparents has little Georgie spent more time with? And critically, which luxury goods brand should they endorse in their next outing?

Yes, these are burdens indeed. They are not burdens I want to explore, because doing that would disrobe them of the last shreds of dignity or mystique they might still hold. I would be forced to acknowledge that my life – with all the worries of mortgage payments, career, investment, childcare, premature greying and climate change – is far richer than the royals. And that would be such a bore.

Chetna Prakash

Chetna Prakash is a Melbourne-based freelancer. With her passport showing residencies to Zambia, India, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, UK and now Australia, she confidently lays claim to the term “global citizen”. Her favorite pastime is to look at artworks and will them to say something to her. You can read her blog at Chatnoir: A Mumbaikar in Melbourne or find her on twitter @Mumbai2Melby

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