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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.

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11 thoughts on “Richard III’s ‘Armour’ at the New Leicester Visitor Centre

  1. sighthound6 on said:

    I suppose this reflects the frequent gap in understanding between museum professionals and ‘enthusiasts’. The latter often do not understand what the former are trying to achieve; the former rarely offer a useful explanation such as this post. I have seen similar ‘disputes’ in other areas of preservation.

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  2. Thanks, sighthound. Fair comment – unless an institution makes clear why visitors can’t, for instance, touch the exhibits, use flash photography, and have to put up with closed blinds/low light levels, it can cause a lot of annoyance. (It still does, sometimes, even when it’s explained!!)

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  3. Hilldodger on said:

    The suit is white because of its location in the upstairs gallery which represents the clinical laboratoty used for the identification. I’m not keen on it but it does make sense when you visit the centre.

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    • thanks for the clarification, hilldodger – yes, that does make sense.

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      • manxmaid on said:

        Thanks both for explaining the display choice, which makes sense ; still think it odd though that it is not side by side with a real suit of armour to compare ; or perhaps would have a real suit of armour with a high quality photo of it nearby on board with all the arrows and information.

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  4. viscountessw on said:

    Beautifully explained. It’s almost always a lack of information that leads to misunderstanding and criticism. Thank you for shedding such light.

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  5. Joan Cooksley on said:

    I’ve been saying more or less the same thing, Helen.
    My only reservation is regarding the crown…..it looks a bit comical and brings the Micklegate Bar outrage to mind!……….but that’s just me, not the general public!

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  6. The blue dots on the white each represent a wound that was found on Richard’s remains. There is an explanation of it all close-by that the critics of it all neglect to mention. It is intended as a teaching tool to show the wounds inflicted, including the multitude to the back of the head.

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