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British School, 16th century

Richard III (1452-85) 1504-1520

Oil on panel | 56.5 x 35.6 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 403436

King's Closet, Windsor Castle

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  • This was part of a set of early portraits recorded in Henry VIII’s collection (including Henry V, Henry VI and Edward IV). Recent dendrochronological (tree-ring) analysis indicates that this panel was painted between 1504 and 1520. It would have been part of a set of heads of kings and queens either commissioned by Henry VII or Henry VIII. The artist is unidentified but is most likely to have been either British or Flemish, working for the royal court.

    The portrait was not painted from life, but was probably created by an artist following an original drawing or painting. The King is shown in a head and shoulder view, set against a patterned background. He wears a jewelled gold chain and an elaborate jewelled brooch in his cap. He places a ring onto the little finger of his left hand; the rings probably have royal significance.

    During or shortly after the creation of this painting, the outline of the King’s right shoulder was extended upwards so that it seemed higher than the other, creating the impression of a hunched back. The artist may also have turned the corners of the sitter’s mouth downwards to make the facial expression seem more severe and possibly altered the colour of the eyes from brown to steely grey. It is likely that these changes were part of a Tudor propaganda campaign to further damage the Richard’s legacy. This depiction of Richard, complete with its unflattering alterations, served as the prototype for many later copies of the portrait. Such later copies were popular from the later sixteenth century onwards, when long galleries adorned with sets of royal portraits became fashionable in private houses.

    The gold painted spandrels in the upper corners contain monochrome profiles of a crowned man and of a woman. Originally the painting would have been in a gilded, engaged frame which has been dismantled at some point in the painting’s history. It is now displayed in a twentieth-century reproduction Tudor frame.

    The painting appears in Pyne's illustrated 'Royal Residences' of 1819, hanging in The Old Drawing Room at Kensington Palace (RCIN 922153)

    Provenance

    First recorded in the 1542 and 1547 inventories of Henry VIII and Edward VI.

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on panel

    Measurements

    56.5 x 35.6 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    70.8 x 50.8 x 4.8 cm (frame, external)

  • Category
    Object type(s)