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How a triptych painted in the 17th century can teach us something about web and learning design

Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke

Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke (Photo credit: lisby1)

Lady Anne Clifford (born 30 January 1589/90)

Lady Anne Clifford (born 30 January 1589/90) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lady Anne Clifford in the left hand panel is shown age 15 at the time of her father’s death.

Her father, her brothers shown here also long dead, leaves his estates to his brother; something Lady Anne spends the rest of her life fighting to overtime.

In the right hand panel, 41 years later, she had the lands – though only because the male line of her cousin also produced no male heirs.

This vast painting, known simply as the ‘Great Picture’ tells a poignant story, wealth and lands are involved, but also the desperate love of a daughter for her wayward father.

It is a deeply personal story too, the image of a happy family suggested in the central frame is a myth.

George Clifford was a womanizer, Champion to Queen Elizabeth, privateer and gambler. By the time Lady Anne was at court, where she was sent age 13 years 2 months, her father was estranged from her mother and with his mistress.

Fig 4. Loaded into Picasa this grab of a 17th century painting, of a 16th century character gets the ‘networking’ treatment.

This vast painting, known simply as the ‘Great Picture’ tells a poignant story, wealth and lands are involved, but also the desperate love of a daughter for her wayward father.

The rows or heraldic devices left and right of the main picture tell the 200 year history of the Clifford Family from the mid 15th century, a line that ends with Anne. All the portraits are copies of miniatures, some made 50 years before this composite painting.

It reads like a Hollywood Movie

There are  three acts, the moment when it all goes wrong for Lady Anne she loses her father and inheritance), the conflict to take possession of the lands which the central panel indicate belong to this line of the Clifford family, and the final act when Lady Anne, now 56 years old, and twice married with daughters of her own, moves into her properties.

On the other hand, to modern eyes it is a homepage for a website.

There would be over 70 clickable points, links into nuggets of information, on previous generations, on her brothers who died age 5 and 7, on her governess (Mrs Anne Taylour) and tutor (Samuel Daniel), her aunts too (Baroness Wharton, Countess of Derby, Countess of Warwick and Countess of bath), and her two husbands (the earl of Dorset and Phil, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery) … on the books she read and the music she player, even her pet cat and dog.

The learning experience is governed by the viewer and where your eyes alight.

Both Lady Anne’s diaries and this painting suggest a daughter who craved her father’s affection and on his death wanted what she felt should have been his gift to her – his lands. Clifford is shown in a pose he’d never recognise, a father and head of the family with his wife and children. He wears a suit of ‘Star Armour’ the equivalent today of being shown sitting in or standing next to a Royals-Royce Phantom.

Some story, some picture, some ideas on how to compress information into a three frames from the 17th Century.

It has all I’d look for in a website home page: a storyline, a choice of ways into the information (the choice to explore down to the use) and drama both in the events and the scale and nature of the picture.

There’s pleasure today tracking down items from the Great Picture: the books are labeled, the pearls Lady Anne wears (a gift from her father), the star armour, the portraits and miniatures on which the Great Picture exist in galleries, collections and museums. The players have their stories too and Lady Anne kept a diary.

The journal Lady Anne kept reads like a modern blog, it trips between the issue of her inheritance and tussles over them with kings and husbands, as well as details like paying the housekeeper 3d (three pence) to look after her cat when she was away (you can see the cat at Lady Anne’s skirts in the right hand panel).

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