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Friday, August 11, 2017

The Name of Thrones

The throne Charles III of Spain.
The Coronation Chair of
England--looks rather
rickety and not particularly
For the past several years now one of the most popular shows on cable TV has been HBO's Game of Thrones. They say it's pretty good, if you like that sort of thing. I don't watch much TV anymore (except for news) and in any case it's not exactly the type of drama that appeals to me. Of course, if the series were really about thrones, I'd be more apt to follow it. In reading a little about the upcoming seventh season, I realized that real royal "rumpresters" have one important attri-bute that intrigue me. They embody both art and history. Most (but not quite all) thrones are, in their own way, exquisite works of art. Moreover, they seldom get much use anymore so that also gives them a lot in common with art. They're beautiful to look upon, and each one aids in our realization and appreciation of just how far we've come--how much has changed now looking back to then--when tired monarchs actually sat on them...sometimes.

A fanciful depiction of Solomon on his throne.
Drawing of the Cathedra
 Sancti Petri, housed in
St. Peter's Basilica, Rome.
Historically, it's hard to say when rulers started utilizing fancy chairs as a symbol of their temporal power. We read of David and his son, Solomon (above), enjoying the creature comforts of mag-nificent thrones, but even before that, so did the Egyptians and various Greek gods. And certainly the Hebrew God is quite often referred to in con-nection with His throne. Moreover, thrones are not associated only with kings and deities. Roman Catholics have long venerated the "chair" of St. Peter (right) while his papal vicars have graduated to more grandiose such items of furniture (below). Likewise, the Throne of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in the Phanar (below, left), in Istanbul is occupied by a religious leader. On the dais the Gospel is enthroned on a curule chair, in front of it, lower down is the patriarch's throne.

Throne of the Ecumenical
Patriarch of Constantinople
in the Phanar, Istanbul.
Throne of the pope, Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome
The Dragon Throne of China, Hall of Supreme
Harmony, Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Virtually anywhere on earth, every ruler has climbed upon the throne movement, though those from oriental cultures bear little resemblance to those found in most western cultures. The Dragon Throne of China (above) is located in the Hall of Supreme Harmony in Beijing’s Forbidden City. This ornate red and gold throne is where Chinese emperors would lay down the law for their vast empire. On the back of the throne is a carved scene of Buddhist paradise, which represents the sovereign’s absolute power and authority. The Takamikura Throne of Japan (below) has also come known as the Chrysanthemum Throne. This 31-foot-tall lacquered chair is topped by a golden statue of a Phoenix. The fabled Phoenix is meant to symbolize the mountaintop where the sun god placed her grandson, who then became the first emperor of Japan.
The Takamikura Throne is housed in the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
It would no doubt surprise a lot of people in this country to realize that we Americans also have a palace replete with throne room with red and gold furnishings along with matching d├ęcor. Go ahead, ponder that. I'll give you a hint. One of our fifty states used to have a king and queen. If you guessed Hawai'i, you be right--the Iolani Palace (below) in Honolulu, Hawai'i. Upon the death of King Kalakaua VII in 1891, the last reigning Hawaiian monarch was the widow of his heir, Queen Liliuokalani. After several attempts to form a viable government she was eventually overthrown by the U.S. military, which installed Sanford B. Dole (as in the pineapple company) as president. The queen was imprisoned in the Iolani Palace for nearly a year before being pardoned. She died in 1917 at the age of seventy-nine.
The Iolani Palace throne room, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Quite apart from the royal accouterments of Asia and the Pacific, if you want to see just how far we've come in our governmental seating arrangements, it's interesting to realize that very few national leaders today live in palaces, except for the French President and maybe one or two others. They do, most of them, occupy government housing, none of which feature thrones (except for the type that flush). I should point out that the British have an extensive collection of palaces, each outfitted with one or more traditional thrones, but the Queen of England has long taken a backseat in all but ceremonial duties to the Prime Minister, who lives a ways down Downing Street in a pretty unremarkable townhouse.
The Buckingham Palace throne room is a
model of tasteful restraint.
The lovely, loving, and lovable Queen of England has two palaces in London proper and another, Windsor Castle, out in the suburbs. Her official residence is the overblown Buckingham Palace while the smaller, much older St. James' Palace is reserved for official entertaining and royal office space. Prince William claims an office there. The Buckingham Palace throne room is larger and the more tasteful of the two, featuring two thrones on a dais while the St. James throne room has only one such piece of royal red and gold furniture. Although richly colorful, neither can hold a candle to their 19th-century counterparts in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Hundreds of years of royal tastes in decorating all wrapped
up in a single theatrical reminder of what once was.
The Ivory Throne of
Tsar Ivan IV of Russia.
If you've ever wondered about the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the demise of the Romanoffs a few years later, look no further than ostentatious Grand Peterhof Palace on the outskirts of St.Petersburg. Couple that with a disastrous war, poverty, oppression, and starvation, and the wonder is that the whole Tsarist horror story didn't come crashing down decades earlier. In 1833 the minister of education devised a program of "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality" as the guiding principle of the regime. The peo-ple were to show loyalty to the unrestricted authority of the Tsar and the Russian Orth-odox Church. This led to increased repres-sion of all classes and excessive censor-ship. Palace envy (of Versailles) led to the construction of the Peterhof and Catherine's Palaces, the Winter Palace (Hermitage) in St. Petersburg, the Bolsheviks, and shortly thereafter, their Communist cousins.
The Russian government no longer needs thrones and palaces, except for the tourist dollars and euros they generate.
Near the end of WW II as the Nazi army was driven back at a tremendous cost in lives and rubles, the Soviets paid dearly to rebuild, restore, and refurbish their imperial past, squandering capital they could ill-afford, essentially replicating, along with their smashed Russian baroque architecture, also the same social and political mistakes as their tsarist ancestors. The result, as before, were stunningly beautiful (if you like gold leaf) but also, as before, the politically and socially disastrous. The seventy-year Soviet nightmare ended on Christmas Day, 1991. Today, only the Tsarists palaces and art museums remain as reminders of the vibrant artistic culture that once was.
I was there in 2014. It's every bit as impressive as it looks.

The over-the-top throne of Elizabeth,
daughter of Peter the Great, 1742.

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