MASQUES & THE MACABRE : ART MACABRE AT SOMERSET HOUSE Thursday 27 March 2014 @ The Deadhouse, Somerset House We ventured beneath the fountains of Somerset House’s courtyard, to the hidden underground tunnels of the Deadhouse, to explore the macabre and theatre, scandal and politics of historical Stuart and Restoration masques. We held a death drawing special event to try and bring back to life the ghosts of kings and queens, royal intrigue and spectacular masque entertainments.

Anne of Denmark and James I as they dance at one of their rival masques

Anne of Denmark and James I as they dance  and perform together at a masque

Through nude and costumed models, live music, installation design and narrative, we hope that within the dark and dripping Deadhouse we managed to shed a little light on parts of Somerset House’s history. Revealing secrets of the masques, looking back to a time when Somerset House was a royal palace and thriving centre for culture and the arts, court politics and extravagant entertainments. DSC_0600


Charles II, husband to Catherine of Braganza, (aka Stanley the Skeleton) with 7 red roses to represent his 7 mistresses

Amongst the gravestones of Catherine of Braganza’s courtiers and servants, our skeleton guides led participants to encounter and sketch six different characters with their own part in the story of the masques to tell (some more flesh or bone that the others):  Queen Anne of Denmark and King James I, Queen Henrietta Maria and King Charles I, Queen Catherine of Braganza and King Charles II (his skeleton at least). Art Macabre’s Nikki Shaill did her best to share pieces of the historical tales and clues about each character. graves


Handkerchiefs soaked in the blood of the beheaded Charles I, husband to Henrietta Maria


The Deadhouse

Everyone drew in the shadows and glow of fairy lights, to a soundtrack of Carmen Mon Oxide’s live operatic renditions of period music composed by those the queens were patrons to, including Purcell and John Dowland (full playlist here) and atmospheric drips from the ceiling that we hoped people might believe was blood and not rain! Thanks to all of the staff and volunteers of Somerset House (including Annette, Matt, George, Karishma and the brilliant volunteer team), our skeleton guides Linz, Heather, Tiffany and Aaron, photographer Geewai David Ho,  Cass Art for sponsoring the drawing materials and of course our models Alex B, Steve Ritter, Mika, Carmen Mon Oxide and Stanley the skeleton. DSC_0024DSC_0601





It was thrilling to explore real historical stories and we hope to do more heritage and historical inspired events in the near future. Any ideas for places and stories we should investigate? Get in touch… If you fancy coming to another Death Drawing event, then we’d love to welcome you to an upcoming event – all details of next events can be found here.

Art Direction, Design & Event Production: Nikki Shaill assisted by Linsay Trerise

MORE PHOTOS FROM THE EVENT… All photographs copyright of Art Macabre Death Drawing Salons and the artists 2014 (c) Not to be reproduced without written permission of Art Macabre. MEET OUR ROYAL MASQUERS OF SOMERSET HOUSE… QUEEN ANNE OF DENMARK &  KING JAMES I


Steve Ritter poses as James I

James I as sketched by Aaron Jacob Jones at our event


Steve Ritter majestically portrayed King James I, the first Stuart king, who favoured Whitehall for all male masques whilst his wife, Anne of Denmark, proved herself to be ‘mistress of the revels” as chief masquer for extravagant and elaborate rival masques staged at Somerset Palace (or Denmark House as she renamed it).  Our artistic patron queen could be portrayed than none other than Alex B. In contrast to her husband’s, Anne’s masques were a distinctly female affair, and she herself acted in the plays that featured very imaginative and expensive costumes and stage designs by Inigo Jones and music and dance especially created.

Anne Anne of Denmark (1574-1619)Anne was very influential in the development of the masque as a complex, very innovative art form and was both performer (often nude to the waist) and patron of the masque- starting a 50 year tradition of masques as politically influential court theatre staged at Somerset House by the following royalty in particular the Queen consorts. The message and occasion of the masques, as well as who was invited and seating arrangements for each spectacular event, were ways in which Anne challenged her husband’s authority and exerted her own political power and influence on foreign policy as well. Somerset House became a thriving cultural and arts focus for London under Anne’s reign. DSC_0648    




Wife to Charles I, Henrietta Maria introduced speaking roles for herself and her ladies in waiting masquers- carrying on the tradition of the court masque at Somerset House established by Anne. Again, these very female focused entertainments were somewhat cutting edge- leading the way for speaking parts for women in theatre many years ahead of Shakespeare in the court masques. Women were called ‘notorious whores’ for appearing on stage speaking, cross dressing with fake beards as men and again Inigo Jones’ designs show that costumes for masques often revealed bare breasts as part of their fantastical features. DSC_0640     DSC_0597






A lover of nature (with a menagerie of birds, monkeys and dogs apparently), we portrayed Henrietta Maria amongst flora and fauna in a floral headdress design that conjured up the pastoral themes of The Shepherd’s Paradise, one of several Platonic love themed masques that she commissioned and played in. We also created our version of her lavish chapel, featuring the bloody skull of Charles I.  CATHERINE OF BRAGANZA

catherinesingingjpg Carmen Mon Oxide sang live Baroque music whilst posing nude (except for a string of pearls) as our Queen Catherine of Braganza. The final chapter in the royal masques story of the Stuart and Restoration period, Catherine was wife of the infamously unfaithful Charles II, and renowned for being Portugese, Catholic and unable to give birth to an heir. She apparently also liked to play cards on a Sunday (to the horror of Puritans), popularised drinking tea and loved to dance in the masques, as we represented in our poses. catherinebraganzaoval DSC_0038

Sketch by Aaron Jacob Jones of Catherine B

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