Official photographs capture start of new reign

  • The first official pictures of the king and queen have been unveiled
  • The images were taken by Marie-Jo Lafontaine and Marina Cox
  • They will be made available in the fall

 

Marie-Jo Lafontaine and Marina Cox have, over the past few years, established themselves as respected names in the world of art and photography, but will now have the opportunity to share their work with a much wider audience, following the unveiling of the first official photographs of King Philippe and Queen Mathilde. The two women were charged with the delicate task of producing pictures that convey a certain image of the royal family, both in Belgium and abroad.

 

From this fall onward, the portraits should begin to appear in local administrative buildings, schools, courts and embassies. However, among the spokespersons, constitutional experts and other specialists contacted by Le Soir, no-one was able to confirm Monday if the hanging of the pictures was mandatory.

 

Up until now, Belgian monarchs have always taken a traditional approach to the way they were represented artistically. Initially, at least. One can still find the first official portrait of a young King Baudouin – in military uniform – in some schools. Later, for his final official picture, he appeared in somber clothing, and only his head and shoulders were visible. It was a similar story for King Albert II at the beginning, but, perhaps influenced by the queen, he later shed some of his old-fashioned habits. A full-length portrait of the royal couple was then produced, but the surroundings always had a very closed feel.

 

A much more surprising dual portrait was taken by photographer Dirk Braekman, one of the artists (alongside Jan Fabre and Marthe Wéry) commissioned by Queen Paola to undertake work for the Royal Palace. This pair of beautiful, unofficial full-length pieces, produced in black and white and taken outside, can currently be viewed in the Bazar Belge exhibition at the Centrale contemporary art gallery in Brussels.

 

It is now the turn of Philippe I and Mathilde to call upon the services of renowned artists, but for their official photographs this time. Five images have been initially made public: one of the couple together and two individual portraits of the king and queen. All are the work of

Lafontaine and Cox. “The commission was given to Marie-Jo Lafontaine,” explains Pierre Emmanuel De Bauw, communications director at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister. “She came with her entire team, which included Marina Cox, and once the two sessions were complete, she asked if both of their names could be added to the photographs.”

 

And while such official portraits obviously have a very pre-planned air about them, hiring Lafontaine for the job is not an insignificant move. By creating these portraits of the royal couple, she has still managed, despite the numerous criteria imposed on her, to add her own personal touch. Gone are the closed settings favored by previous incumbents. This time, with the full agreement of the Palace, the photos were taken outside. “The portraits are very serious but also show a great openness. If you look at other royal families in Europe, there are very few images like these,” points out De Bauw.

 

In choosing to convey openness toward the outside world, face the camera straight on and surround themselves with light, Philippe and Mathilde have made it clear that they do not intend to hide away in their ivory towers. One other detail has caught the eye of observant royalists: the queen is wearing the same sash and decorative accessories as the king. On this point, however, there is a sense of a return to ‘normal’. “Neither Queen Fabiola nor Queen Paola wanted to wear them. It’s not mandatory,” says De Bauw. Via this small detail, could Philippe I and Mathilde be giving a subtle sign that the queen will have a more important role to play?

 

JEAN-MARIE WYNANTS

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