The University of Southampton
University of Southampton Institutional Repository

Deus ex machina: a royal witness to the court origin of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas

Pinnock, Andrew (2012) Deus ex machina: a royal witness to the court origin of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas Early Music, 40, (2), pp. 265-278. (doi:10.1093/em/cas047).

Record type: Article


Towards the end of his reign Charles II initiated an ambitious cultural propaganda programme celebrating final victory over his political opponents. In 1683 work began on a new royal palace at Winchester, supposedly on the site of King Arthur’s castle. At Windsor, meanwhile, a ten-year castle modernization scheme known as the ‘Great Works’ neared completion. The Windsor state apartments had been sumptuously remodelled. Antonio Verrio, the Neopolitan artist commissioned to paint every state apartment ceiling, brought his work to a triumphant conclusion in St George’s Hall, home to the Knights of the Garter (the neo-Arthurian chivalric order over which Charles II presided).

All but three of Verrio’s ceilings were destroyed in the 1820s. But guidebooks published prior to that describe them in detail. Portions appear in the engravings illustrating W.H. Pyne’s The History of the Royal Residences (vol. i, 1819). Pierre Vandrebanc produced engraved views of several in the 1680s. Verrio’s blatantly allegorical designs are recoverable therefore. The extent to which they influenced masques and operas also intended to honour Charles II can be demonstrated.

This paper argues that Purcell’s Dido librettist, Nahum Tate, gathered visual-allegorical material from two Windsor ceilings and used it to generate singable text. ‘Phœbus Rises in the Chariot’ at the start of the Dido prologue. Phoebus, riding the chariot of the sun in Verrio’s ceiling portrait (an allegory of the restoration, unequivocally) wore the ‘Sacred Head’ of Charles II, not that of James or any later monarch – an observation which future contributors to Dido dating debate may wish to take into account.

Full text not available from this repository.

More information

Published date: 20 July 2012
Keywords: henry purcell, dido and aeneas, antonio verrio, nahum tate, charles II, windsor castle, restoration allegory
Organisations: Faculty of Humanities


Local EPrints ID: 338879
ISSN: 1741-7260
PURE UUID: fadf4476-02c5-49b4-ab9b-c01628452589

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 17 May 2012 14:09
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 05:56

Export record



Author: Andrew Pinnock

University divisions

Download statistics

Downloads from ePrints over the past year. Other digital versions may also be available to download e.g. from the publisher's website.

View more statistics

Atom RSS 1.0 RSS 2.0

Contact ePrints Soton:

ePrints Soton supports OAI 2.0 with a base URL of

This repository has been built using EPrints software, developed at the University of Southampton, but available to everyone to use.

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive cookies on the University of Southampton website.