NPG_936_1374_KingCharlesIIbThe first ever display of works of overlooked 17th century artist Cornelius Johnson, court painter to Charles I, has opened at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square. Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter features rarely viewed portraits of the king’s children including the future Charles II, James II and Mary (later Princess of Orange-Nassau) as well as a painting of Mary’s son William – all of which have been taken from the gallery’s collection. Overshadowed by Sir Anthony van Dyck, Johnson – who emigrated to The Netherlands when the English Civil War broke out – has been largely ignored by art historians despite the breadth of his work – from group portraits, such as his largest surviving English painting, The Capel Family, to tiny miniatures – and the fact that he is thought to be the first English-born artist who took to signing date his paintings as a matter of course, something he is believed to have picked up during his training in The Netherlands. The display features eight painted portraits and six prints from the gallery’s collection as well as three paintings from the Tate. Runs until 13th September in Room 6. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: King Charles II by Cornelius Johnson , 1639. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

Trafalgar Square will be at the centre of London’s St George’s Day celebrations on Saturday with live music, celebrity chefs, a masterclass by leading tea experts and children’s games and activities. The musical lineup will feature the band from the West End musical Let It Be and the Crystal Palace Brass Band – one of the few traditional brass bands remaining in London. The free event runs between noon and 6pm on Saturday. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/stgeorges.

Indigenous Australia, the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects, opens at the British Museum today. Drawing on the museum’s collection, Indigenous Australia features objects including a shield believed to have been collected in Botany Bay on Captain Cook’s voyage of 1770, a protest placard from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy established in 1972 and contemporary paintings and specially commissioned artworks from leading indigenous artists. Many of the objects have never been on display before. Runs until 2nd August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Thirty prints from the Royal Collection will be on show at The London Original Print Fair to mark its 30th anniversary. The fair runs at the Royal Academy from today until Sunday and among the selected works from the more than 100,000 prints in the Royal Collection are the 2.3 metre long woodcut by Albrecht Durer entitled Triumphal Cart of the Emperor Maximillian (1523), Wenceslaus Hollar’s four etchings of tropical Seashells (c1650), a sequence of proofs of Samuel Reynolds’ portrait of King George III at the end of the monarch’s life, and lithographs produced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert dating from 1842. For more on the fair, see www.londonprintfair.com. For more on the Royal Collection, see www.royalcollection.org.uk.

The question of what is meant by the concept of luxury is under examination in the V&A’s new exhibition What is Luxury? Opening at the South Kensington museum Saturday, the exhibition will feature a range of luxury objects – from the George Daniels’ Space Travellers’ Watch to a Hermés Talaris saddle, and Nora Fok’s Bubble Bath necklace. Also on show in a section of the exhibit looking at what could determine future ideas of luxury is American artist Gabriel Barcia-Colombo’s DNA Vending Machine (complete with prepackaged DNA samples) and Henrik Nieratschker’s installation The Botham Legacy which tells the fictional story of a British billionaire who sends altered bacteria into space in an attempt to find valuable metals on distant plants. Runs until 27th September. Admission charge applies. See www.vam.ac.uk/whatisluxury.

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Historic Royal Palaces are offering you the chance to meet King George I and explore the world in which he lived at his former real-life home of  Hampton Court Palace this Easter weekend. A re-enactment marking the 300th anniversary of his accession will have the new Hanoverian king arrive by royal barge on the River Thames and will also include courtiers taking part in a “stately dance”, the King’s troupe of Hanoverian horses performing a “horse ballet” and a Georgian Army encampment with soldiers involved in firing displays. Visitors to the palace will also be able to see a new re-presentation of the Queen’s State Apartments which explores who the Hanoverians were, how they came to rule and their many and bitter family feuds. Runs from tomorrow (18th April) to 21st April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/.

The 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth is being celebrated with a week of events at the Guildhall Library next week. Kicking off on Tuesday, 22nd April, and running until Friday, 25th April, events include talks – with subjects including ‘Shakespeare’s London Theatreland’ and ‘Imaging Shakespeare’s Indoor Theatre’, and a six hour complete reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets with readers including actor Damian Lewis, author Alan Hollinghurst and Lord Mayor of City of London Fiona Woolf as well as Shakespeare-themed walks around the City and Southwark, and the free Shakespeare in Print exhibition at the Library. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/archives-and-city-history/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx. Meanwhile, the V&A is also holding a Shakespeare Festival, kicking off next Monday and running until 4th May. Highlights of the festival include screenings of some of the best theatre productions of Shakespeare in the last 20 years, live performances by actors and musicians and a series of debates and talks including the “interactive lecture” Marchpane to Mutton – A Taste of Shakespeare’s Time by food historian and artists Tasha Marks. There’s also a competition – Cakespeare – in which the public are invited to design, bake and decorate a Shakespeare-themed cake and share an image of it on social media (#Cakespeare) by 4th May with the winner to receive a weekend for two to Stratford-upon-Avon and tickets to the Royal Shakespeare Company. The festival is being complemented by a display in the Theatre and Performance Galleries, Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright which features the First Folio as its centrepiece. Admission is free. See www.vam.ac.uk for more.

It might be two days ahead of the official saint’s day, but the Feast of St George will be celebrated in Trafalgar Square this Bank Holiday Monday with a banquet and guests including a five metre high interactive dragon. The festivities, hosted by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, will also include an English Farmers’ Market featuring 20 stalls, a kid’s marquee and traditional wooden garden games, harlequins on stilts, swing boats and circus lessons for children, a bandstand located in front of Nelson’s Column and a 12 foot tall Maypole. Runs from noon to 6pm. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/feast.

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Feast-of-St-George

Magic tricks at the ‘Feast of St George’ in Trafalgar Square on Saturday. Wandering performers were just part of the celebrations in the square held there on Saturday in honour of St George’s Day (the actual St George’s Day is today, 23rd April). Other activities also included a farmer’s market, food tastings and live cooking demonstrations with a specially decorated banqueting table, music, traditional games and children’s activities including a quest with prizes awarded by a five metre high interactive dragon. Put on by the Mayor of London, the Feast of St George is inspired by St George’s Day’s 13th century origins as a national day of feasting. PICTURE: James O Jenkins/Greater London Authority.

Happy St George’s Day!

April 23, 2011

Amid the celebration of Easter and the flurry of preparations for the upcoming Royal Wedding, you could be forgiven for overlooking the fact that today was St George’s Day.

Hard to do in central London, however, where Trafalgar Square was the centrepoint for celebrations of a musical kind.

Held on the 23rd April each year, St George’s Day – a national day of celebration in England although not yet a national holiday – commemorates the death of St George in 303 AD.

Tradition says St George was a Roman soldier who served the Emperor Diocletian before he was executed for refusing the adjure his Christian faith.

His story – which gradually morphed into a tale in which he defeats a dragon in a symbolic triumph of good over evil – came to England with returning crusaders during the Middle Ages.

He was later adopted as the country’s patron saint (it has been suggested this took place after King Henry V’s victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 but while his feast day was made a national holiday in 1222, it remains a matter of conjecture as to when he become the country’s patron saint).

As one would expect of a national saint, there are numerous depictions of St George around London – the image above is of a massive bronze sculpture by Michael Sandle (1988) which sits in Salisbury Court in the City of London.