Richard III’s ‘Armour’ at the New Leicester Visitor Centre
I haven’t seen this for myself yet – but I’ve seen plenty of photographs and a good deal of huffing and puffing over the replica of Richard III’s suit of armour at the recently-opened Visitor Centre in Leicester.
The bone of contention, (apart from the replica’s authenticity, on which I don’t feel qualified to comment), is that it’s painted white, looks more like a Star Wars storm-trooper than the last Plantagenet king, and is therefore somehow insulting to his memory.
The critics do have a point, up to a point – it’s not particularly attractive. However, as a former museum conservator, I do feel qualified to comment on the likely rationale behind this choice of display technique, because it’s not an uncommon one. From the images I’ve seen, the ‘armour’ looks like a teaching resource: there are numbered labels stuck to it at various points, which I assume tie into a key naming the various pieces and possibly giving information about them. It is painted white to show up well in the dimly-lit display case, to allow the labels to be seen and read easily, and most importantly, to make quite clear that this is a REPLICA – that the Visitor Centre designers have not defaced a real suit of historical armour by sticking adhesive labels all over it. A comparable technique is frequently deployed when original artefacts – ceramic vessels, wall-paintings or whatever – are reassembled by conservators and gap-filled with modern materials painted in a different colour; the intention is not to con the viewer into thinking the item was found complete and in perfect condition, but to differentiate between the historic fabric and the modern reconstruction.
I further assume that the designers chose a white colour-scheme for the replica in an attempt to avoid complaints by visitors who might otherwise believe that it is Richard III’s real armour, and that it has been treated inappropriately; so I bet the poor souls are gobsmacked by the flood of ferocious complaint it has nonetheless provoked.