Sunday, 8 July 2012

What to see: Queen Maud’s coronation gown

The exhibition of treasures from the Royal Collection at the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Oslo, which is one of six exhibitions based on the Royal Collection the government has presented to the King and Queen on the occasion on their 75th birthdays, has so far attracted more than 40,000 visitors. One of the highlights of the exhibition, which is on until 26 August, is the gown worn by Queen Maud for her coronation in Trondhjem Cathedral (now Nidaros Cathedral) on 22 June 1906.
The coronation dress is of gold lame, apparently hand-woven in Lyons, with scalloped lace sleeves (said to be lace inherited by Queen Maud) and richly embroidered in gilt metal thread, gold-coloured sequins, artificial pearls and diamante.
It is a joint venture by Vernon of London and Silkehuset of Kristiania (now Oslo), but we do not know how these two fashion houses divided the work. However, Anne Kjellberg of the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design has reached the conclusion that it seems as if the dress was sewn in London and embroidered in Kristiania. However, some accounts disagree with this, including one contemporary newspaper account which said that the dress had been sewn by Silkehuset and embroidered in Paris.
The gown is in the so-called “princess style”. In its décolletage it is perhaps possible to detect a hint of medieval to go along with the architecture of the great Nidaros Cathedral, which in those years was undergoing a major rebuilding and whose newly restored interior was taken into use in its entirety for the first time for the coronation.
Unlike the coronation gowns of her two predecessors, Queen Louise and Queen Sophie, which were decorated with the Norwegian heraldic lion, Queen Maud’s gown is entirely devoid of national symbols. One may argue that the dissolution of the personal union with Sweden had made the use of such national symbols superfluous. This may seem paradoxical at first, but the Bernadottes, who were kings and queens of two independent kingdoms but resided primarily in one of them, obviously used every opportunity to stress their Norwegian identity. For the new dynasty, which was exclusively Norwegian, this was not as necessary.
Queen Maud’s coronation dress also shows a clear influence from that worn by her mother, Queen Alexandra of Britain, for hers and Edward VII’s coronation in 1902. Queen Alexandra had taken advantage of the fact that theirs was the first British coronation in 64 years to wear a fashionable Parisian dress more in keeping with her own taste rather than with traditional requirements. Queen Alexandra is said to have brushed aside objections by, somewhat irrationally, insisting that she knew more about fashion than anyone else.
Following the death of King Olav V in 1991, the wardrobe of his mother was donated to the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (now part of the National Museum), where Queen Maud’s coronation gown was first exhibited in 1994. Since then it has also been exhibited in London, Trondheim and Monaco.

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