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One looks at Chris Levine’s 2007 holographic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and wonders if this is how Her Majesty looked during the London riots last week: serene, detached and floating above the mayhem on the streets in a divine soft-focus cloud of diamonds and sable.
Levine’s portrait was actually created in 2004 to mark the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the island of Jersey’s allegiance to the Crown. But if Levine’s portrait is a prescient look at the state of the monarchy in 2011, most of the other works in The Queen: Art and Image, now on view at the National Gallery complex in Edinburgh and traveling to two other venues before opening at the National Portrait Gallery in London next spring, are perfect representations of the times during which they were created.
Dorothy Wilding’s 1952 hand-colored photograph of a young Elizabeth taken shortly before her coronation shows a demure yet confident and already iconic monarch with all the promise of her reign ahead of her; it make an interesting contrast with Thomas Struth’s recent portrait of the Queen with Prince Philip taken earlier this year, in which as much emphasis is placed on the royal surroundings as on the royal persons themselves and where the Queen’s humanity is given more weight than perhaps any other portrait taken over her nearly 60 year reign.
While the exhibition includes photographs of the Queen by such modern art heavyweights as Andy Warhol and Gerhard Richter, it does not, alas, include any of the delightfully irreverent parody shots by photographer Alison Jackson, who has employed lookalikes to portray the royal family dropping by KFC for some takeout chicken and doing the conga with Lady Gaga and Elton John at a wedding reception. Apparently, emphasizing the Queen’s humanity can only go so far.