CAN A PICTURE PAINT A THOUSAND WORDS?
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 by Edwin Austin Abbey, Richard Duke of Gloucester and the Lady Anne.
Richard Duke of Gloucester and Lady Anne, Edwin Austin Abbey, 1896.
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 aint looking good for the ‘wicked uncle’ is it?
This version is by Philip Calderon. Young Richard 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!
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 some in forming positive perceptions of Richard’s character.
King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower, Paul Delaroche 1831.
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.
Mural in the Royal Exchange, Offer of the Kingship to Richard Duke of Gloucester at Baynards Castle June 26 1483 , Sigismund Goetz
Paul Delaroche also painted The Execution of Lady Jane Grey..not one of our Ricardian characters… but a descendant of one, Elizabeth Wydeville, via her son Thomas Grey, lst Marquess of Dorset. Delaroche again gave his artistic license free reign..Jane was in fact executed in the open air, in the part of the Tower that is known as Tower Green where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and also Margaret of Salisbury, Clarence’s daughter were executed.
The execution of Lady Jane Grey, Paul Delaroche 1833
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 proved for some people to be rather a hindrance for the rehabilitation of Richard’s character.