Just down Whitehall from London’s Trafalgar Square is the Banqueting Hall, first and, regrettably, only phase of Charles I’s proposed Palace at Whitehall. Charles was trying to keep up with the Joneses (read: French monarchy) and had commissioned his architect Inigo Jones to create a royal residence comparable with the Tuileries in Paris. As one of England’s earliest proponents of the Renaissance, Jones drew from a recent continental tour, especially his visit to the Veneto and the work of Andrea Palladio. What resulted was an elegantly appointed hall for royal entertainments.
During your visit, don’t forget to look up, where Peter Paul Rubens–commissioned to decorate the ceilings with allegorical works reinforcing the Divine Right of Kings–breached the fine line between art and propaganda with a central panel titled “The Apotheosis of James I.” James was Charles’s father.
Art is often called into public service. This was surely the case during our Great Depression when a mythologized America helped us through a difficult time. We could use a few constructive myths right now to accomplish the same thing.
Agincourt’s city hall was a WPA product of 1938, designed by an imagined architect but conceived by the very real Prof Steve Martens; Steve has recently completed a massive study of the WPA in North Dakota. Though he never mentioned specific examples of public art near, on or in the building, I have a feeling there’s a powerful mural surrounding the City Council Chamber. I have an even stronger feeling that it tells the chronological story our Civic Life–in the abstract (as myth) and the particular (as editorial). Now if I can just persuade some art students to undertake its realization.
WPA Mural by Henry Sternberg (1938); Lakeview Branch Post Office, Chicago, IL