Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Richard III (1452-85)
This was part of a set of early portraits recorded in Henry VIII’s collection (including Henry V, Henry VI and Edward IV). Recent dendrochronological (tree-ring) dating sets its creation date as 1500-1520. Consequently it was probably either commissioned by Henry VII or Henry VIII. The artist is unidentified but is most likely to have been either British or Flemish, working for the royal court.
The portrait was not painted from life, but was probably created by an artist following an original drawing or painting. The King is shown in a head and shoulder view, set against a patterned background. He wears a jewelled gold chain and an elaborate jewelled brooch in his cap. He places a ring onto the little finger of his left hand; the rings probably have royal significance.
Shortly after its creation, or perhaps in order to ‘complete’ the image, the outline of the King’s right shoulder (the left shoulder as we look at the painting) was extended upwards in an arch from the elbow to the neck so that one shoulder was made to seem higher than the other, creating the impression of a hunched back. The artist also appears purposefully to have turned the corners of the sitter’s mouth downwards to make the facial expression seem severe.
This depiction of Richard III served as the prototype for many later copies of the portrait which were popular from the later sixteenth-century onwards, when long galleries adorned with sets of royal portraits became fashionable in private houses.
The gold painted spandrels in the upper corners contain monochrome profiles of a crowned man and of a woman. Originally the painting would have been in a gilded, engaged frame which has been dismantled at some point in the painting’s history. It is now displayed in a twentieth-century reproduction Tudor frame.