The Lady Margaret Beaufort Portrait Prize
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the admission of female students to Christ's, but women have long played a key role in the life of the College, beginning with Lady Margaret Beaufort who re-founded God’s House as Christ’s in 1505.
In honour of our Foundress, and to mark this anniversary year, the College established The Lady Margaret Beaufort Portrait Prize, inviting entries that aimed to represent her in her myriad roles; as a woman, mother, patron, promoter of education. Entries were encouraged to be innovative, beautiful, and relevant, and, crucially, to work as part of a re-hang in Hall which has temporarily replaced the paintings usually there as part of the anniversary celebrations.
The two winners of The Lady Margaret Portrait Prize were Yasmina El Chami (m. 2017, PhD student in Architecture) with Mar-garet Polyptych, 1978-2018 (series of five photographs), picture top, and Emil Sands (m. 2017, Classics) with Lady in Blue (Margaret Beaufort) (oil on canvas), pictured bottom.
Of their work, the winners said:
‘My five photographs each portray a current female student at Christ’s. Echoing both classical and modern themes in portraiture, the women are depicted in their own outfits, holding a book they consider valuable to their knowledge and growth. Unlike Lady Beaufort’s traditional posture, highlighted by her headdress and religious text, contemporary women at Christ’s are represented as confident and unique individuals, from various backgrounds and with varied personalities. The series thus aims to reflect on the evolution both of women’s status at Christ’s (and beyond) and of Cambridge University itself, as it adapts to the internationalisation of academia and knowledge production’.
Yasmina El Chami
‘My painting aims to reinstate Margaret Beaufort to her rightful position of power. Other portraits depict Beaufort as a subject to be viewed: a woman demure, pallid, and passive. My Lady Margaret looks out at us confidently, almost confrontationally, to reclaim her place at the heart of college life. The Lady is no longer the meek recipient of an onlooker’s passing glance but a woman demanding to be seen. I have, however, paid homage to past portraits of the Lady by mirroring the painters’ technique of high contrast - pale skin on dark background. My painting style, which incorporates thick layers of oil, is a nod to historic portraiture. My inspiration for this painting came in a memorable first week at Christ’s, when I was shocked to discover that the devout woman who paid for the whole project was barred from entering her own chapel. Forced to sit outside, the Lady took communion through an inner window in her house (now the master’s lodge). In painting her for today, I wanted to right the decades of discrimination and depict Beaufort as the powerful woman she always was, an inspiration to all students who followed her and to the women – and men – who embark on adult life via her College’.
The competition submissions, including the winners, have been hung alongside portraits related to Lady Margaret, from Christ’s own collection and from St John’s College. Seeing ‘Margaret’ in series like this, has drawn attention to the lack of diversity in the ways in which college halls in Oxford and Cambridge are traditionally decorated and throws into relief the white European male medium that is the portrait, especially in oil paint.
Now students of the College have made their own images of her to celebrate her life, legacy and the admission of women to Christ’s forty years ago, of which she would no doubt have been very proud.