The Regal Twelve
Alexia Sinclair’s The Regal Twelve is a series that combines hundreds of photographic elements and illustrations to form complex digitally montaged artworks. The series portrays twelve European monarchs who have ruled supreme and whose lives span over two millennia.
Through the study of history and portraiture, a series of contrasting regals formed, whose stories are revealed within each artwork.
“a brilliant tour de force of manipulated conceptual photography’s power” - Robert McFarlane, Sydney Morning Herald.
An unusual blend of Royalty, this series features very few conventional rulers. Instead, The Regal Twelve is a diverse series that celebrates the famous, the infamous and the obscure. Selection was based on their contrasts in leadership, their flamboyancies and their enduring influence upon society. In a time when women generally held little power, these Artemis-like women ruled as both male and female.
Exploring the complexities of each ruler, The Regal Twelve celebrates historical realities within the guise of contemporary fantasy, a kind of conversation between the past and present.
Catherine the Great
“The Enlightened Empress” (1729-1796)
The German born princess emerged from obscurity when she was chosen to become the wife of the future Emperor Peter III. Changing her name to Catherine, she read widely and familiarised herself with Russian conditions and values. Her fervent embrace of both the Orthodox faith and Russian culture, won her much love from the Russian people. Her husband Peter, on the other hand, was said to have the intellect of a child. Once he succeeded to the Throne, a group of conspirators, headed by Catherine's current lover, proclaimed her autocrat. Shortly afterward Peter was murdered.
Catherine began her rule with great projects of reform, creating the documents that became a guide for an enlightened code of laws. She was subsequently known as "Catherine the Great" or an "enlightened monarch". Catherine embraced the principles of the Enlightenment and applied them to her territories allowing religious toleration, freedom of speech, and the right to hold private property. She became known as patron of art, literature and education, creating the Hermitage Museum, the "Louvre of Eastern Europe". Catherine wrote memoirs, comedies, and stories and had many lovers, three of whom were influential in government affairs.
Catherine the Great - "The Enlightened Empress" reflects on Catherine's reputation of having conducted her political planning with her lovers in her boudoir. The elevated perspective is intended to symbolise her battlefield / boudoir. Catherine's placement amongst Orthodox icons transforms the Empress into a Russian icon herself. Catherine's famed style is celebrated through the embellishing of her hair and gowns as well as the body painted corset that pays homage to Catherine the patronage of the arts. Topped in a myriad of pearls and Imperial Seals, Catherine holds a quill a companion to her famous memoirs. The portrait contained within the fan beside Catherine is a painting of the Empress Catherine in life.
Eleanor of Aquitaine
“The Eagle” (1122-1204)
Eleanor grew up in the court of her father, William X, developing a lifelong love of music and literature. Her inheritance of her father's titles made her the most eligible heiress in Europe. Louis VI may have been King of France, but his land was far less wealthy than Eleanor's vast realm of Aquitaine.
Upon William's death, fifteen year old Eleanor married Louis VII, shortly thereafter becoming the Queen of France. Eleanor was high-spirited and strong-willed. During The Second Holy Crusade, Eleanor and her company of 300 women joined the Crusade. Her ladies, dressed in armour caused quite a stir, one eyewitness stating that Eleanor had dressed her ladies as amazons and rode bare-breasted and pregnant. Some time later, Eleanor and Louis divorced and Eleanor married the soon to be King Henry II of England. The former queen of France was soon the Queen of England. Eleanor eventually retired to the Abbey Fontevraud, and upon her death, she was entombed in the Abbey, beside her second husband, Henry II and her son, Richard the Lionheart.
'The eagle of the broken bond shall rejoice in the third nestling.' They called the queen the eagle because she stretched out her wings over two kingdoms - France and England."
Eleanor of Aquitaine - "The Eagle" depicts a bare-breasted pregnant queen, dressed in French armour. Her exposed breasts and belly are body-painted as armour and bear her coat of arms, the three lions. The background is the real entrance to Eleanor's tomb in Fontevraud, France. Carved across the arched entrance are Eleanor's motifs; eagles signifying her nickname, lions, signifying her coat of arms. Also the crowned King and Jesus Christ, signifying her husband, son and the holy crusades. Eleanor's eyes are locked with an eagle. This doppelganger effect is a play on the motif; Eleanor the eagle stretched her wings over two kingdoms.
“The last Czarina of Russia” (1872-1918)
The last Czarina of Russia, Alexandra Romanov was born in Germany. Converting to Russian Orthodoxy upon her marriage to Nicholas II of Russia, she became a passionate convert. She was unpopular with the Russian people, because of her German birth and her notorious relationship with Rasputin. Russia withdrew from WWI and the accompanying Bolshevik revolution forced the Tsar to abdicate and the family went into house arrest.
The Romanovs were finally executed by firing squad in the basement of the house in which they'd been imprisoned. According to the "Yurovsky Note" it was discovered that the executioners' bullets had ricocheted off the corsets of two or three of the Grand Duchesses. It was later discovered that the family's crown jewels and diamonds had been sewn inside the linings of the corsets to hide them from their captors. The corsets thus served as a form of "armour" against the bullets. The family was subsequently taken to the forest and buried. Alexandra's daughter Anastasia's body was never discovered and the legend of her survival continues to this day.
"Court Supplier" Fabergé provided one of the many luxuries that this excessive family enjoyed during its reign; the Fabergé Eggs. Today, the Faberge Eggs are regarded as masterpieces although, at a time of revolution, the term 'Fabergé Egg' had become synonymous with decadence. Alexandra is remembered as the last Czarina of Russia.
Alexandra Romanov “The Last Czarina" places the Czarina in a forest setting, reminiscent of the Romanov's resting place. Alexandra wears a jewel encrusted gown, symbolising the jewels that were sewn into their corsets. Her vertical stance and expression is a reference to the disappearance of Anastasia. At Alexandra's feet lie scattered Fabergé Eggs symbolising the excessive luxury that lead to her demise.
“The Virgin Queen” (1533-1603)
The daughter of King Henry VIII, Elizabeth was born into royalty at Greenwich Palace near London. Henry, hoping for a male heir, declared Elizabeth illegitimate, accused her mother of adultery and had her beheaded. Succeeding her sister to the throne, Elizabeth ruled with the knowledge that effective rule depended upon popular support. Advisors urged the queen to marry to strengthen ties with allies and to produce heirs to the throne, yet Elizabeth chose instead to marry England. Strategically aligning herself with the catholic figure the Virgin Mary, Elizabeth secured a shift of power through her embodiment of symbolic virginity. Purified, she was transformed from an illegitimate protestant woman to "the virgin queen". Her purification began with a physical transformation by cutting off her hair, whitening her skin and adorning herself in pearls; symbols of purity and wealth.
Elizabeth presided over the renaissance in England. Her forty-five year reign saw England thrive through its increase in power and world influence. Playwrights such as William Shakespeare flourished as a result of the renaissance period, as did many philosophers and explorers. The reign of Queen Elizabeth I is often referred to as the Golden Age or the Elizabethan Era.
Elizabeth - "The Virgin Queen" uses the game of chess to parallel Elizabeth's life, as her own survival as a monarch relied on the skilful manoeuvring of political forces. Elizabeth sits as a pawn, holding the orb and sceptre. These, along with the rings that cover her fingers are from the royal jewel collection and have been added post-production.
Elizabeth's hair is pure illustration and is embellished with pearls. Used as an extension of her crown, Elizabeth's hair is also inspired by fifteenth century Italian ideals of beauty, where fantasy within the hair of a portrait symbolised goddess stature. The pearls are not limited to the hair though as they also cover the queen's ruff, dress and eyelids. The radiating halo is the ultimate symbol of Elizabeth's embodiment of the Virgin.
“The Countess of Blood” (1560-1614)
A Countess in Transylvania, Elizabeth Báthory, was known as the "Countess of Blood" and is considered the most famous serial killer in Slovak and Hungarian history. Báthory is also credited along with her relative, Vlad the Impaler, as the two historical figures upon which Bram Stoker's Count Dracula is based. According to legend, Báthory struck a servant girl and drew blood when her pointed nails raked the girl's cheek. When the blood touched Báthory's skin, she became convinced that it had improved her complexion. The Countess reasoned that if she bathed in the blood of young virgins and drank their blood, she would rejuvenate. The killing spree commenced. She began to roam the countryside by night, hunting for suitable girls. Elizabeth is said to have bathed in their blood in a huge marble bath.
Without trial, she was starved and sealed in a closet in her castle where she died four years later accused of torturing and murdering more than 600 women.
Elizabeth Báthory - "The Countess of Blood" reflects upon the legend of the vilified Countess. Running with wolves through a hazy dark forest, Báthory is lit only by a large full moon. Symbolically, the moon exerts influence over creatures of the night. When wolves howl at a full moon the image evokes the dark and sinister force of the moon. Báthory's unnatural transformation from old to young is whispered through the fog which symbolises the soul passing from one world to the next. Her blood red hair, her long pointed red nails with blood dribbling from her mouth, are all confronting elements that reflect the vampire myth. The image alludes to the relationship between women and the moon. Báthory personifies the Greek goddess Artemis, The huntress.
Standing high on a cliff edge, the gothic castle is a symbol of the home which eventually became Báthory's prison and then her grave.
“The Seductress” (69 BC-30 BC)
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Cleopatra VII was the last Pharaoh of Egypt and the last of the Ptolemaic line. After the resolution of rivalry with her siblings and her alignment with the Romans, seventeen year old Cleopatra became the Queen of Egypt. It was said of Cleopatra that, when Gaius Julius Caesar marched upon Alexandria, Cleopatra, had herself smuggled to Caesar inside an oriental rug. When the rug was unrolled, Cleopatra tumbled out. It is said that Caesar was bewitched by her charm and that a scandalous love affair commenced that very night. After Caesar's assassination Cleopatra realigned herself with the Roman general, Mark Antony.
Clearly a seductive woman, Cleopatra not only exuded charisma, she was also a highly intelligent woman and proved to be a shrewd politician. She was the only Ptolemaic Pharaoh who could speak Egyptian and, spoke a total of nine languages.
Caesar's nephew Octavian and Rome marched upon Alexandria, resulting in Cleopatra's loss of Egypt and the death of Antony. Upon hearing of his death, Cleopatra had a basket of figs smuggled to her, hidden within was an asp. Commonly misunderstood, the Egyptian cobra is also called an asp. When Cleopatra was discovered, the thirty-nine year old queen was found dead on her golden bed, and two pricks were found on Cleopatra where she had allowed the serpent to bite her. The cobra bite was considered an honourable death, allowing Cleopatra passage into the afterlife.
Cleopatra - "The Seductress" portrays Cleopatra's famous suicide. The queen's entire body is covered in golden body paint, coated in a fine tracery reminiscent of Egyptian armoury. The walls that form the background as well as the ancient Egyptian treasures that adorn both Cleopatra and her throne are sourced from excavated tombs of Pharaohs. The seductress has been bejewelled with scarab beetles, sacred to the Egyptians, who buried the dead with beetles as symbols of regeneration. Cleopatra holds a poised cobra as though the famous event is about to transpire.
“The Celtic Queen” (AD 26-61)
Boudica was born into a royal family around AD 26 in modern day England. Growing up, she attended a warrior school, learning to use a sword, spear and shield and her weapon of choice, the chariot. Boudica married Prasutagus of the Iceni tribe and they had two daughters.
The Romans had invaded England in AD 43 and brutally humiliated Boudica and her daughters. Sources say she was publicly stripped and beaten whilst her daughters were raped. Infuriated, Boudica became the leader of a violent uprising against Roman rule. She led an army of 100,000 against the occupiers, slaughtering some 70,000 Romans. The Romans were quick to put down the rebellion by defeating the undisciplined Britons in a ferocious battle. It is said Boudica took her own life, so that she would not fall into Roman hands. Boudica, which means Victorious, in now viewed as a heroic symbol of Britain.
Boudica - "The Celtic Queen" focuses on a triumphant battle scene. Boudica's status as a monarch is formally recognised through British Royal lineage and many of the articles excavated from her battlefields are contained within this artwork. Roman accounts described her as having worn a great golden torc around her neck. The torc was worn by royalty as a crown and has been incorporated. Other treasures include the Celtic shield and the numerous torcs that cover her body as well as the famed Tara Broach.
Boudica wears a discarded Roman helmet and sword. A horse rears beside a Celtic chariot and both are embellished with Celtic symbols.
Proudly, she stands alone, her red hair spiralling to her knees. Boudica is body painted with a Celtic design and muslin and wears a modern kilt evocative of the Celtic tunic she wore.
Isabella of Spain
“The Catholic” (1451-1504)
Isabella I of Spain, also known as "Isabella of Castile" or "Isabella the Catholic" was born into the royal family of Castile, Spain. Her marriage to Ferdinand V of Aragon helped unite Spain and they supported each other with their joint motto of equality; They amount to the same, Isabella and Ferdinand.
Financially supporting Columbus's journey (America), Isabella brought Spain into a Golden Age of exploration and colonisation, creating a wealthy nation and the first modern world power. However, the dark side of Isabella presided over the notorious Spanish Inquisition, whose intolerant treatment of religious minorities was harsh and cruel. Pope Alexander VI named Isabella and Ferdinand The Catholic Monarchs. Isabella's Book of Revelations promised salvation to the godly; the Spanish claiming to be the new Israel. Her illustrated bible Book of Hours helped Spain to become the great Catholic power as it appealed to the non-literate classes.
Isabella of Spain - "The Catholic" depicts a cathedral in Toledo, Spain, originally sponsored by Isabella. The original painting has been digitally replaced with a painting from 1490 and the significance of this painting is in its contents. The figures include the Virgin surrounded by Isabella and family and the key figures of Isabella's governing forces. Every object within this artwork has been incorporated post-production and each is symbolic. Isabella, the catholic, kneels beside a stack of bibles, highlighting her fanaticism. Resting upon the bibles is a blood red quill, signifying the inquisition and the deaths that resulted. The pages of the bible sitting on Isabella's luxurious gown are from the original Book of Hours. This pose combines both her religious fanaticism and the journey of Columbus as her gaze is fixed and her hands are cupped upon a crusade ship. Chillies symbolise the return of Columbus from the New World with rich treasures such as spices and Inca gold. Scattered throughout the artwork are the original coins pressed from Inca gold and displaying the embossed heads of Isabella and Ferdinand.
“The Poisoness” (AD 15-59)
Julia Agrippina II was a Roman Empress. Born into nobility, she was the sister of Caligula and great-niece to Tiberius, niece and wife of Claudius and mother of Nero. Agrippina's infamous reputation was that of an Empress and a poisoness.
She was a true Imperial politician who did not eschew murder as a way to achieve her aims. She is believed to have poisoned Claudius by preparing his favourite mushroom, Amanita Caesarea, considered a delicacy by the Roman nobility, and lacing it with the juice of Amanita phalloides, the Death Cap, so eliminating Claudius and making Nero emperor. For some time Agrippina influenced her son, Nero, as she had controlled her deceased husband. Nero tried many times to have Agrippina assassinated including three attempts at poisoning her. Legend states that, when the Emperor's soldiers finally came to kill her, Agrippina pulled back her clothes and ordered them to stab her in the belly that had housed such a monstrous son.
Agrippina - "The Poisoness" takes its lead from her notorious reputation for poisoning opponents with laced mushrooms. Agrippina sits, poised like a lioness, poisonous mushroom in hand, plotting the death of those who dare to question her. A femme fatale, Agrippina dared to live life defiantly flouting the natural flow of Roman order.
Beside Agrippina sits a lion, symbolising Roman power and nobility. The backdrop is the Triumphal Arch in Volubilis, displaying Latin text alluding to the now ruined Roman outpost in Volubilis. A location highly suited to an often exiled Roman Empress.
Agrippina's makeup pays homage to the makeup worn by Poppaea, the wife of her son Nero, who used bright blue paint for emphasising her breast-veins.
“The Sorceress” (376 BC-316 BC)
Olympias was the wife of the Macedonian King Philip II and the mother of Alexander the Great. She was suspected of involvement in the assassination of her husband, amongst many others, to secure her son's leadership. Wielding great influence within Macedonia, first during Alexander's long battle campaigns, Olympias enjoyed periods as mistress of Macedonia.
A devout worshipper of Dionysus and, reputedly, a sorceress Olympias was said to have kept pet snakes. The sorceress claimed that Alexander was descended from the gods, insisting that Zeus, King of Gods, had taken the form of the wind, moving through the leaves of the age-old oaks as she slept below and had impregnated her. Another version tells that Olympias dreamt of a snake that slowly slithered between her legs as she slept. She dreamt that its seed mingled with the seed of her husband. A variation on this story states that Olympias was impregnated, not by King Philip, who was afraid of her practice of sleeping in the company of snakes, but by Zeus alone. Both Philip and Olympias dreamt of their son's future birth. In Philip's dream, he sealed her womb with the seal of the lion. Alexander was said to have the character of a lion.
Olympias - "The Sorceress" combines all three myths relating to Alexander's conception. Olympias lies on a stone slab, beneath an oak tree, the wind of Zeus weaves through the branches above and through her hair. Snakes slither around her and are a combination of photography and body painting. Serpents hang from the oak tree in the allure of temptation suggestive of Eve and the forbidden fruit. Another slithers up her leg, symbolising the mythological impregnating snake. Below Olympias lie a sheath and dagger, their inlay of golden lions a motif of Alexander, just as the golden box, once belonging to Philip is suggestive of Phillip's presence.
Christina of Sweden
“The Androgynous Queen” (1626-1689)
Christina was born into Swedish royalty. Her father's only heir, she was raised as a Prince, educated as a boy and adored traditionally male sports. Christina even took the oath as a king, not a queen. Growing up, she was nicknamed "Girl King" and, at the age of six, upon her father's death, Christina became the Queen of Sweden.
Queen Christina launched a "Court of Learning" through her patronage of art, theatre, and music. However, her reign was controversial, often described as participating in multiple affairs with both men and women. Her relationship with lady-in-waiting, Countess Ebbe "Belle" Sparre launched rumours of lesbianism.
Most mysteriously, some years later, Christina abdicated the throne. She left Sweden, travelling as "Count Dohna" and disguised as a man. Relocating in Rome, she lived in a palazzo filled with art and books that became a lively centre of culture as a salon. Converting to Roman Catholicism, the former Queen Christina became a favourite of the Vatican and is one of four women to be buried in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica, alongside the remains of the popes. Christina's "abnormal" interest led to her body being exhumed for testing in 1965, to determine whether she had signs of hermaphroditism or intersexuality, but the results were inconclusive. She is remembered as "Minerva of the North" for her patronage of learning and the arts.
Christina of Sweden - "The Androgynous Queen" places Christina in a forest. Adorned in feathers, she personifies the goddess Artemis. Christina is huntress and protectress and this is celebrated through her adornment of feathers and birds. She wears a mask combining feathers of body painting, photography and digital illustration. The wearing of masks represents other faces or realities and alludes to Christina's cross gender through the two faces of one Queen. Bow in hand and quiver on back, Christina is enjoying the tradition of hunting, a sport typically enjoyed by the male nobles and gentry of her time.
“The Extravagant Queen” (1755-1793)
Marie Antoinette was the Queen of France during the French Revolution. Born in Vienna, she was sent to Versailles at the age of fourteen where she was married to the future King of France, Louis XVI. At this time, France was the most powerful nation in Europe, and the royal palace of Versailles, the most opulent. Four years after her arrival she became the Queen of France.
The young Queen threw herself into a life of pleasure, hosting opulent parties and going to masques in Paris; fully embracing France's style and fashions. She spent lavishly on her appearance, influencing fashion throughout Europe with her high headdresses, plumes and voluminous dresses. Her elaborate hairstyles, often reaching three feet in height, exemplified the monarch's love of luxury.
Resented by the French citizenry for her foreign birth and extravagant lifestyle, Marie Antoinette has gone down in history as the arrogant and apathetic monarch who said "let them eat cake" when told the peasants were starving. These days most scholars dismiss the attribution as revolutionary propaganda. The revolution swept Paris from 1789 and Marie was beheaded 16 October 1793. Popular history holds that Marie's last words were an apology to the executioner for accidentally stepping on his foot.
"Marie Antoinette - The extravagant Queen" shows an opulent ballroom located in Palais des Ducs / Palais Ducal, Dijon, France. A large painting frames the Queen and is filled with notable revolutionary imagery. The most recognisable figure within the painting is Napoleon Bonaparte who later succeeded to the throne as Emperor of the French. A figure representing Liberty holds the tricolore flag, a symbol of the revolution.
The Queen's vulnerable neck is exposed to the surrounding revolutionaries. She holds a decedent wedge of cake, the symbol of her indifference, excesses and ultimate demise. The famous French Queen, Marie Antoinette, is defiantly extravagant in life and death.