Zoomable Image of Portrait of King Richard III (1453-85)

Portrait of King Richard III (1453-85)

English School , Late Sixteenth Century

Portrait of King Richard III (1453-85)

English School , Late Sixteenth Century

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Oil on oak panel


22 3/8 x 17 1/8 in. (57 x 43.5 cm.)


Sotheby’s, London, 16 July 1986, lot 200; Elton M. Hyder, Jnr

Technical Expertise:

Prof. Dr. Peter Klein, Dendrochronological Analysis Report, 13 December 2015

In the present work, we see a very distinctive design of hat jewel, which appears in the aforementioned work in a private collection but not in any other recorded portraits of Richard from the same period...

This late-Tudor ‘corridor’ portrait of King Richard III is an example of the only painted portrait-type of Richard, best known from a sixteenth-century panel in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery [NPG 148].[1] This portrait-type probably derives from a lost original which may well have been painted from life, and preserves a distinct characterisation, into which observers have been able to read either tortured humanity or malice, depending on their understanding of the King’s character.

King Richard’s reputation as a paradigm of evil only started after his death, initiated by Tudor propagandists, including Sir Thomas More and William Shakespeare. The youngest son of Richard, Duke of York, he was created Duke of Gloucester in 1461 after his eldest brother, Edward, had deposed Henry VI and been crowned Edward IV. In October 1470, the two were exiled by the Earl of Warwick in favour of Henry VI. Returning with Edward in March 1471, Richard contributed to the victories over the Lancastrians at Barnet and Tewkesbury that led to Edward’s restoration.

When Edward died in April 1483, Richard became protector of the realm for Edward’s son and successor, the 12 year-old Edward V. Problems soon arose with Edward IV’s widow, Elizabeth Woodville, and her family, who dominated the young monarch. Richard arrested (and eventually executed) their leaders and took Edward V and his youngest brother into custody.

A publicity campaign condemned Edward IV’s marriage as invalid, his children illegitimate and Richard to be the rightful successor. On 25th June an assembly of lords and commons endorsed these claims; the following day Richard III officially began his reign.

The usurpation, however, eroded Richard’s support among those who had accepted him as Protector. The two young princes disappeared in August, widely rumoured to have been murdered by Richard. This remains a possibility. A rebellion raised by the Duke of Buckingham in October quickly collapsed, but Buckingham’s defection, along with his supporters, eroded Richard’s power and support among the aristocracy and gentry.

Meanwhile, Richard had a serious rival to the throne. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, claimed Lancastrian ancestry to the throne through his mother Lady Margaret Beaufort great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt. Although exiled in France, Henry was rapidly gathering support among those disaffected with Richard’s governance. In August 1485, Henry landed in South Wales. He marched east and engaged Richard in battle on Bosworth Field on 22nd August. Although Richard possessed superior numbers, several of his key lieutenants defected, chiefly Lord Stanley and his brother Sir John Stanley. Refusing to flee, Richard was killed in battle. Henry Tudor took the throne as King Henry VII, founding one of England’s greatest dynasties that would last until the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.

In the late-sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the corridors and long galleries of noble and gentrified houses were hung with a profusion of panel portraits. These collections evolved from earlier, smaller sets that would depict, perhaps, just the owner’s family and the present sovereign. By the date of the present portrait – in line with the Tudor pseudo-antiquarian fascination with dynastic and heraldic matters – these sets might span as far as possible the entire succession of the English crown, putative and actual family connections, foreign monarchs, political allies and great men of the past.

Intriguingly, the present work, which was almost certainly part of a set, bears a number of striking similarities with another portrait of Richard in an English private collection, and it is quite probable they were both produced in the same workshop around a similar time. Unfortunately, very little is known about the portrait painting workshops active in England in the late-sixteenth century, however, it is sometimes possible to identify paintings produced in the same studio by studying similarities between compositional and stylistic attributes. In the present work, for example, we see a very distinctive design of hat jewel, which appears in the aforementioned work in a private collection but not in any other recorded portraits of Richard from the same period.

[1] Dendrochronological analysis (tree-ring dating) of the panel on which this work was painted suggests an earliest plausible usage date of 1586 upwards

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