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Banastre Tarlteon by Joshua Reynolds

Portrait of Sir Banastre Tarleton (1754-1833) by Joshua Reynolds, 1782. National Gallery (UK)

See update below!

By 9:00 on Sunday, I was asleep and missed “Turn,” which Mr S wasn’t even watching because, as he declared, “It’s just a bad show.” On Monday evening, I made it through the opening of the show and gave up for good. But those minutes made me think of the Banastre Tarleton portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and the suggestion on Twitter that “Turn” had no historical consultant.

It occurred to me, as I stared at the rather curious headgear worn by Captain Tallmadge (I think it’s stretch lycra over a “Roman” gladiator costume helmet glued to a baseball cap visor and edge-taped with gold foil) that perhaps the people doing the costumes simply lacked visual literacy. This could explain the refugees from Fort Lee who looked like they stepped out of an Emma Lazarus poem, and it could explain the very unfortunate helmet.


Let us look at Banastre Tarleton, hunky bad boy of the British dragoons: he came to mind on Monday night, and what visual relief he is.

Note the light edge of the visor: this is a highlight. The leading edge of a polished surface will shine, and helmets, even of leather, will be reflective. Over time, the edges will polished by wear if not on purpose. I cannot speak to the helmet habits of the horse-mounted, but I know from paintings, and that edge is a highlight.

The Boys last July. Look, shiny, not-taped visor edges.

The Boys last July. Look, shiny, not-taped visor edges.

Reynolds painted what he saw, and just as the Young Mr’s cheekbones are reflecting light off the underside of his visor and Mr S’s helmet edge is shining in the direct light, so too is Colonel Tarleton’s helmet edge shining.

(Yes, there are both mounted and unmounted dragoons within a unit; but I just can’t help feeling that an officer would be mounted more often than he has appeared to be thus far.)

ETA: Heather has graciously pointed out a very nice blog on Turn, which is doing a far more even-handed and informed job of watching and commenting on the show. Thank you, Heather!