The meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I, known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold, took place between 7 to 24 June 1520 in a valley subsequently called the Val d’Or, near Guisnes to the south of Calais. The event derived its name from the sumptuousness of the materials used for the tents, pavilions and other furnishings. It was a spectacle of the greatest magnificence and the several artists responsible for this painting have made a fairly accurate visual summary of the various festivities that took place during the meeting of the two kings.
The English party was based at the town of Guisnes, seen in the left half of the painting. The king entered the town on 5 June accompanied by Catherine of Aragon, who appears not to be represented in the procession. Several member of the king’s suite on horseback can be identified: Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Garter King of Arms, and Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, who carries the Sword of State, precede the king. Cardinal Wolsey is alongside, with his cross-bearer riding ahead. Catherine of Aragon may be the female figure dining in the tent at the extreme right or she may be in the litter behind that tent, accompanied by ladies-in-waiting.
The right hand foreground is dominated by a palace, specially erected for the occasion by six thousand men from England and Flanders sent ahead of the royal party. The palace was set on brickwork foundations, but the walls and roof were made of canvas painted to look like a solid structure. The framework was of timber specially imported from the Netherlands, the windows of real glass and the façade was adorned with sculpture. Two fountains in front of the palace provided wine and beer for people’s consumption (the over-indulgence of which leads some of the figures in the painting being sick or engaging in brawling). Behind the temporary palace are the King’s golden dining tent and the ovens and tents in which the King’s meals were prepared. The formal meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I takes place in the rich tent at the centre background.
To the right is the tournament field with the two kings and their queens watching the events from the side. In the corner of the field stands the tree of honour. In the top left of the painting is the dragon (or salamander) firework, which was released on 23 June. The tents used by lesser members of the royal suite stretch into the background, with Calais and Ardres (where the seemingly much smaller French party were based) seen in the distance.
Probably painted for Henry VIII.
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