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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

British School, 16th century

Richard III (1452-85) 1504-1520

RCIN 403436

King's Closet, Windsor Castle

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Recent dendrochronological (tree-ring) dating of this portrait sets its creation date as c.1500-1520. Consequently it was probably either commissioned by Henry VII or Henry VIII.

Not painted from the life, this portrait is thought to follow an original drawing or painting. It seems that the artist followed the original line of the sitter’s right-hand shoulder from an original drawing/pattern, and then added paint above this line to create a higher shoulder – perhaps intending to make the sitter look hunch-backed. The artist also appears to have turned the corners of the sitter’s mouth downwards to make the facial expression seem severe.

The Royal Collection portrait of Richard III served as the prototype for many copies of the portrait which became popular in the later sixteenth-century (when long galleries became fashionable in private houses which were adorned with sets of royal portraits). These later portraits include the hunched back and a tracing from the NPG example indicates that it derived directly from the Royal Collection version.

This portrait was part of a set of early portraits recorded in Henry VIII’s collection (including Henry V, Henry VI and Edward IV). These served as illustrations of Henry’s predecessors. The visual defamation of Richard III ties in with the Tudor tarnishing of the Yorkist king’s reputation. Sir Thomas More’s ‘History of King Richard III’ written in 1513 described Richard III as ‘crook-backed’ and ‘hard favoured of visage’. This popular slander was continued more famously by Shakespeare in his history play ‘Richard III’ (c.1591).