Monday, January 15, 2018

Retirement Portrait of Prince Philip


A new portrait of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh has been put on display to commemorate his official retirement from public duties in 2017. The 96-year-old consort, who has been married to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for seventy years, is the longest-serving British royal consort in history, and is the longest-living male member of the British royal family ever, performed his last public engagement in August. Though he will still appear at family functions (including the wedding of his grandson, Prince Harry, in just a few months) and will appear alongside the Queen at state functions and the occasional public engagement, he will no longer perform solo engagements and has stepped down from his active involvement in numerous charities and organizations.

The portrait was done by Australian artist Ralph Heimans. It is a remarkable one, for it emphasizes a number of elements related to Prince Philip's family background.



The painting depicts the Duke at Windsor Castle. At the end of the corridor behind him is the entrance to the Tapestry Room, where his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was born in 1885 in the presence of her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Though many people over the years regarded Philip as a European foreigner, there are those who forget that he has close ties to the British royal family. An anecdote tells us that not long after his marriage to Princess Elizabeth, Philip was forced to endure a tour of Windsor Castle by a courtier who operated under the belief that the place was entirely foreign to him. Exasperated, Philip interrupted the man and said "Yes, yes, I know all this; my mother was born here after all". Painting the Duke standing before the very birthplace of his mother not only adds a sentimental touch, but also nicely emphasizes the fact that he is more connected to Britain than many people give him credit for.

Another remarkable element of this portrait can be found in the sash the Duke is wearing. He is depicted here wearing the sash of the Order of the Elephant, which is the highest order of chivalry in the Kingdom of Denmark  (note the elephant medallion at the bottom of the sash). This emphasizes the fact that the Duke is a descendant of the Danish royal family.

"But wait," you might be asking if you know enough about Philip's background. "Wasn't he from Greece originally?" Yes, Prince Philip was a Greek prince by birth, but we must not forget that the Greek royal family themselves descend from the Danish monarchy. Philip's grandfather, King George I of Greece, was born a Danish prince, the second son of King Christian IX of Denmark. He accepted the offer to become king of Greece in 1863 and arrived in his new kingdom at the age of seventeen, having changed his name, his nationality, and his destiny. All dynastic members of the Greek royal house bore the title Prince/Princess of Greece and Denmark, and the Greek royal family is considered to be part of the extended Danish royal family. Depicting the Duke of Edinburgh with the Order of the Elephant serves as a reminder of the prince's origins and also emphasizes his connection with what is actually Europe's oldest monarchy.

Too many times over the course of Prince Philip's married life have his origins and personal history been obscured or glossed over. He renounced his title as a prince of Greece and Denmark before his engagement to Elizabeth in an effort to make him appear less "foreign" to the British people. He adopted his mother's family name, Mountbatten, which he had no real connection with (it was a name his mother never used for herself, as she had already been married into the Greek royal family by the time her father chose to renounce the Battenberg name). Every effort was made to make Philip appear as naturally British as possible so that his wife's subjects and the British establishment could "stomach" him better. It is therefore heartening to see this portrait and how it prominently displays elements that draw attention to Prince Philip's background and family origins, as he is more than deserving of the respect and gratitude of his adopted country in which he has resided for well over seven decades now.

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