CAN A PICTURE PAINT A THOUSAND WORDS? RICARDIAN ART

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Richard Duke of Gloucester and Lady Anne, Edwin Austin Abbey, 1896.

It’s said a picture can paint a thousand words.  It certainly can but not always accurately.  It can distort the truth.  Art work based on the Ricardian period is certainly true of this.  Take for example the stunning painting, above,  by Edwin Austin Abbey, Richard Duke of Gloucester and the Lady Anne

Here we have an angst ridden Anne, while a definitely humpbacked Gloucester offers her a ring.  It just makes you want to shout at the canvas ‘run, run Anne and don’t look back!’ although it should in fairness be remembered the painting is based on a scene from Shakespeare’s version of Richard lll rather than the actual facts.

There have been numerous paintings of Richard of Shrewsbury being removed from his mother, a distressed looking Elizabeth Wydeville, and although for all I know Elizabeth may well have been distressed on that day,  it ain’t looking good for the ‘wicked uncle’ is it with a small boy being wrestled away from a distraught mother.  Oh dearie me.

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This painting is by Philip Calderon.  Young Richard of Shrewsbury gazes tenderly at his mother   while being yanked away by his arm by a portly gentleman in red – poor little blighter.

A couple of paintings of the ‘princes’ do stand out for me.  The beautiful one by Millais (he used his daughter as a model for one of the princes) where he has the boys, standing in a darkened stairway of the Tower (where,  to add poignancy to the scene, some believe their remains were found buried) clinging to each other while a dark shadow lurks ominously at the top of the stairs – Yikes!

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The Princes in the Tower,  John Everett Millais 1878.

Another one. this time by Paul Delaroche, King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower,  depicts the two young boys, gazing into the middle distance, unaware, hopefully,  of their impending doom, while their spaniel’s attention, tail between his legs, is drawn to the door.  These artists certainly knew how to twang on the old heart strings!  Great stuff but  maybe not very helpful to those trying to bring about positive perceptions of Richard’s character.

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King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower, Paul Delaroche 1831.

Here we have the brothers depicted much younger than they were adding to the pathos.  Richard  Duke of Gloucester gazes at them contemplating they are all that stand between him and the crown shown at the bottom right hand corner.  Hmmm…you can see his brain ticking over here..

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The Meeting of Edward V and his Brother Richard Duke of York Contemplated by King Richard III.  Artist James Northcote @National Trust Images/Derrick E Witty

This is a good one and has no doubt terrified many small children over the years as they  read their history books.  The two small cherubic princes sleep, cuddling each other, unaware of two ruddy great men, one clanking around in a suit of armour,  as you do when you want to creep up unaware to pounce on sleeping victims, just before the heinous act of smothering them to death – Yikes!

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The Murder of the Princes.  Artist James Northcote @ National Trust images

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The Arrest of Hastings 1871.  Sir John Gilbert.

I really do not like this painting at all.    A shortly to be executed Hastings, depicted rather younger than he actually was, looks aghast and shocked at an evil and hunchbacked Richard who is making his departure on the arm of a young and foppish man (Buckingham?).  As he sidles out of the door Richard glances back at the doomed Hastings,  his face a picture of malevolence and  ‘take it outta that’!  Truely a devil incarnate.  Did these painters ever stop to figure out how their version of Richard ever fitted into a suit of armour and fought unto death so bravely at Bosworth.  Still why let truth get in the way of great fiction.

But finally, one that is actually closer to the truth, from a mural in the Royal Exchange by the artist Sigismund Goetz, and one   I can clearly remember, as a small child, from its inclusion in Cassell’s History of the English People.  I would gaze at it, not properly understanding what it actually represented, but nevertheless entranced.  It was not until years later that I could understand what was going on and who the people were in the painting.  A grave, noble,  and rather handsome humpless Duke of Gloucester being offered the Crown at Baynards Castle.  Beautiful ladies in butterfly headdresses look down at the scene from the top of the stairs….its Cicely and Anne!.  A rather frivolous looking young man, leaning nonchalantly against the stairs,  as an elderly man, almost hidden from sight, leans over and surreptitously whispers in his ear..ah!..tis Buckingham and Morton..meanwhile in the background Gloucester supporters , in harness, roar their approval.  Splendid stuff and about time too.

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Mural in the Royal Exchange,  Offer of the Kingship to Richard Duke of Gloucester at Baynards Castle June 26 1483 Sigismund Goetz

So at least one of these extremely gifted artists managed to get it right in terms of accuracy as to what actually happened.    What gifts for the art world but for the greater part, I do wonder if in the past,  these paintings have proved for some people  to be rather a hindrance for the rehabilitation of Richard’s character.

 

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