Emily Pooley is a Special Effects artist based in London, who has worked on a number of current adverts, TV shows and currently working on an upcoming Ron Howard film. She also is a commission based artist in her spare time, creating unique and bespoke pencil portraits and sculpture. To find out more, you can follow her on Instagram ’empooley’, contact on Facebook, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This post is a part of the guest blog series, “Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers.”
Over the last 2 or so years, I have met some incredible, intelligent, creative and well – just plain decent – people for which I have one person to thank: Anne Boleyn.
As a creative person, throughout early education you tend to get the ‘pat on the head’ treatment. People often see art as a fall back option, as the route one takes if you are academically challenged. Luckily, I come from a family routed in craft and all that is creative. Growing up, I would visit my dad’s workshop, where he and his Goldsmith colleagues would be creating the most exquisitely hand-crafted replica Faberge eggs, jewel encrusted Juke box or some other fantastically delicate and beautiful object – craftsmanship of which I can honestly say I have not seen the like since. And with a mother who was an amateur photographer in her youth and keen artist, a brother as a much in-demand graphics designer, artist and musician uncles and cousins, a poet and wonderful painter as a grandfather… I had all the inspiration and backing I could dream of.
What on EARTH has this got to do with the one time Queen of England, I hear you so desperately crying. I always get swept into my childhood whenever people ask of my model and my reasoning for her creation.
Back in 2008, I started my Degree in ‘Technical Arts and Special Effects’. I have never been one for ‘arty art’. I see beauty and intrigue more within the craft of an object, not just with something that has been created by the hand of man, but within nature also. Our own anatomy, for example, is unbelievably beautiful. I don’t, however, see the interest in an unmade bed. This I know many people will disagree with me on – but I guess it’s just what I have grown up around and my own personal preference. This is why I picked a subject that had a bigger purpose than ‘art for arts sake’… (Please don’t judge me on this sentence alone… art comes in many forms and a lot of it interests or inspires in one way or another, and it all tends to entwine into one another). Special Effects opened a world full of some of the best artists I have seen, all inspired by and involved in some of the best visual stories the world has to offer. I for one was glued to our TV as a kid. I loved the idea of being completely engrossed in a show – yes, it was the best form of escapism for a girl who was in her own world and a ‘bit of an odd one’.
Please get to the Anne Boleyn bit now.
Like many people I have come across as the years have rolled on, when I was a kid the Tudors were THE most exciting thing: the larger than life Henry VIII with his huge bulging belly and obsession with bumping off his wives (or so the Horrible Histories books described). I say as a kid as this is where it began… but we all know this is not where it ends. As a kid, I visited Hever Castle at every chance I could get. I loved the drama of the place for this was the real life setting of my childhood stories. When I was 16, the most incredibly dramatic, exiting and sensual show flashed before my eyes – the BBC’s Tudors by Michael Hirst. This was my kind of show and truly rekindled my love for Anne’s story. For all the historians out there, I truly apologise… but rest assured it lead me on my path to discover as much of her ‘true’ story as I possibly could. When it came to picking my final year piece at university, I could finally combine my love of making, craft and anatomy with my excitement of history and storytelling. This was my perfect opportunity to really get to know Anne Boleyn.
I was amazed at how she has been perceived throughout the ages. There are endless writings on her, from factual accounts to personal opinions. Novels, films, art, blogs that have continued to thrive since the moment she left this world. THE most amazing thing to me is that we still don’t know. We still debate to this day. And for this reason, everyone has their own version of Anne, their very own character in history that belongs to them. This is why I created my own model. My own Anne. As an artist, I tried to keep to historical accounts and records to keep to the ‘true’ Anne… but at the same time – she is my own. I am an artist, not a historian and I both celebrate and apologise for this.
One thing that I continuously get asked is ‘Why the extra finger?’ I remember trying to decide whether to go with Anne’s alleged 6th finger whilst walking into our local petrol station near university for snacks. Whilst it was rolling around in my mind, the small group I was in grabbed me, and subtly pointed in the direction of the man serving behind the till. A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them this part, but believe me or not, the man had an extra finger upon one hand. Need I say more.
Apart from Charlotte Rampling’s depiction in ‘King Henry VIII and His Six Wives’, I hadn’t seen another representation of Anne’s infamous 6th finger. Of course I could go on for many pages on whether or not she had a growth on her hand, but you all undoubtedly know far more than I ever will and better places to find such things. Personally, I don’t believe she had an ‘extra finger’, if anything she would have had a small impediment which was exaggerated and used against her. But I do know that this side of Anne always stirs up great debate and interest both with myself and others. For the Horrible History generation, it’s the “eeeeeeeeeew” factor and the magical idea of witches and the like. For the lovers of history, it’s the idea of malicious rumours and religious game-play. The majority of images or representations of Anne that I had come across didn’t show Anne’s story in any way. They relied purely on the ‘portraits’ of Anne and what we already know of history to tell the story. Although the idea of being close to these things does excite me (Madame Tussauds’ model still gives me goose bumps), I wanted more than a lute to tell her story. I wanted at least a small part of the debate that surrounds Anne to come across in my model.
So in amongst the variety of Tudor and Elizabethan inspired symbols I placed within my exhibition (like the Tudor rose my model holds, or the words surrounding the mirror) I wanted people to see the finger and question why it was there. Had I found evidence to finally end the argument? What did the viewer already know? Would they assume that because it is presented on a ‘realistic’ model it is realistic in terms of history? But in all, I wanted people to challenge me on it. It was great to hear a conversation at my show on this exact subject: ‘Look she has an extra finger!’ ‘Yes, but she didn’t actually have an extra finger. It was made up by the Catholics’… ‘But I heard it was a friend that gave a description of it?’… Bingo!
Hever Castle, however, wasn’t so thrilled. They asked me to remove it.
It has been over 2 years since I made the model, and I have had a number of both creative and interesting people take time to contact me about Anne and not just about the model alone. Having the opportunity to be included in a book, the likes of which fuelled my excitement when creating my own Anne, has been brilliant and makes me proud to be a Boleynian. It also makes me a little happy to know that people DO question the finger…. for my plan worked.
So, tell me…what are your views on the infamous ‘6th finger’?
4 responses to ““…Is that an extra finger?!””
I never think about the 6th finger. I think about how betrayed Anne Boleyn must have felt after having a great time with Henry one day and being the target of his latest fear the next. I like your physical rendition of her. So much about Anne Boleyn is of the physical — her sexual hold (or whatever) over a rageful Henry, the need to produce children or else, the beheading. I like to imagine her as a reflective woman who could be alone some of the time. Your work captures a more private Anne and I like what you’re doing.
First off, I love this sculpture of her. It’s a beautiful work of art and the closest to how I imagined Anne looking. I also love the intimacy of it, from her holding Henry’s letter to her under garments; there’s a vulnerability about it and you can sense she’s on the brink of embracing her destiny. That being said, I really dislike the extra finger. I understand that you wanted to be thought provoking and spark debate but I also feel like it helps to fuel a rumor about Anne that I just wish would die already. As a hardcore Anne fan, the extra finger slander is the most annoying and tiresome of all the myths about her. Other than that though, it really is an inspiring piece and something I hope to see in person someday.
I love what you’ve done, Emily Pooley. I lingered on each photograph of your Anne Boleyn. I had a hard time seeing the Holbein sketches (which I love too) in her, but my spatial imagination isn’t great. I love the sixth finger as a sly point of interest. It’s almost unnoticeable, but it marks her as different. It seems otherworldly, in the sense that if we had evolved differently, we might all have a sixth finger. As for Anne, if she had only married her first love. If she had only accepted the invitation to be the king’s mistress and not held out for marriage. If she had only been able to give birth to a live and healthy boy. Thanks again.
I am trying to understand why the picture shows the necklace with the reversed B? Didn’t anyone see that the image was reversed? ;o)