King Richard III
1 of 25 portraits of King Richard III
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
King Richard III
by Unknown artist
oil on panel, late 16th century
25 1/8 in. x 18 1/2 in. (638 mm x 470 mm)
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A portrait that was likely to have been part of the same set has been identified at the Leathersellers' Company through dendrochronological analysis.
An 1859 catalogue listed the portrait as ‘formerly in General Stibbard’s Collection, and afterwards in the collection of Mr. Brown of Newhall’, who may have been Robert Brown (d.1834) of New Hall, Carlops, near Edinburgh. It was presented to the Gallery by James Gibson Craig of Edinburgh in 1862.
This is a version of the standard portrait type of Richard III, the earliest known version of which is in the Royal Collection and is dated to 1504-20 (recorded in the 1542 and 1547 inventories). It is possible that it derives from a lost life portrait. NPG 148 was produced as part of a set of English kings. A portrait of Henry V at Stanford Hall, Leicestershire and a portrait of Henry VI in the collection of the Leathersellers' Company, London are almost certainly from the same set: dendrochronological analysis has revealed that the portraits of Henry VI and Richard III are painted on wood from the same tree and all three portraits have similar spandrels (decorative framing devices) in the upper corners.
Notes on attribution
This portrait was made as part of a set of fifteenth-century English kings that was produced in an English workshop.
Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from the late sixteenth century. Analysis of the wooden panel by dendrochronology has revealed that the wood derives from a tree that was felled after 1577.
The paint surface is in good condition but the original tonality of the background has been affected by heavy abrasion. Gilded spandrels originally covered the lead-tin yellow decoration in the upper corners, which is executed in the same mixture as the inscription and is therefore of the same period. Previous Gallery conservators considered the gilded spandrels to be later additions and they were removed in 1972; such practice is not in line with current conservation procedures. The shape of the gilded spandrels can still be seen in the paint surface in raking light. There are residues of a pale mordant and some fragments of gold leaf on the spandrel area, which lie over the lead-tin yellow pattern and the red background around it. It is clear from the evidence of the residue of the glaze that the gilding was applied at a relatively early stage. The use of gilded spandrels seems more archaic and, therefore, it is unusual that they were applied to cover the lead-tin yellow pattern. However, the same spandrel decoration is present on both the Stanford Hall and Leathersellers’ Company portraits, where the lead-tin yellow pattern can be seen beneath the gilt spandrels, which are still present on both paintings. The spatial effect created by the use of spandrels, together with the background shadows, places the figure within a niche more effectively and may have been applied to unify a set of portraits within an architectural setting.
The portrait was executed rapidly, following a systematic process. The paint in the background is handled with skilful brushwork and the technique is notable for the assured use of red lake glazes and the manipulation of paint layers wet-in-wet; the textured pattern is created by pushing the brush into the still tacky paint layers below. Unfortunately the original tonality of the paint surface in the background has been affected by heavy abrasion.
The sides of the panel are unpainted and the upper and lower edges have been trimmed, which indicates that the portrait originally had an engaged frame.
Drawing and transfer technique
Infrared reflectography revealed underdrawing carefully outlining the facial features, the hair and costume, suggesting that a pattern was used. The traced pattern was then reinforced with tentative lines in what appears to be wet medium. Details such as folds in the neck, curls in the hair and the jawline were then drawn in a more freehand manner, in what was likely to be a secondary 'embellishment' stage. The hands are also underdrawn in a manner that suggests a pattern may have been used, with freehand marks used to position the fingers and rings. The paint closely follows the underdrawing.
Other known versions
The earliest known version is the portrait in the Royal Collection, which has been dated to between 1504 and 1520, RCIN 403436
Others versions are in the following collections:
- Hatfield House (Marquess of Salisbury)
- Longleat (Marquess of Bath) - part of a set
- NPG 4980(12) - part of a set formerly in the collection of the Duke of Leeds at Hornby Castle, Yorkshire
- Syon House (Duke of Northumberland, formerly at Albury) - part of a set
- Society of Antiquaries, LDSAL 321;Scharf XX - Government Art Collection - Dulwich Picture Gallery, DPG531| http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/richard-iii-14521485-199910/view_as/grid/search/keyword:richard-iii/page/1}
- Eton College
- Anglesey Abbey, National Trust, NT 515573
- The Deanery, Ripon - part of a set
- Arundel Castle
- Haughley Park (formerly at Knowsley Hall; sold at Christie’s, 1964)
- Charlecote Park
- Capesthorne Hall
- Private Collection (sold Christie’s 1 December 2000, lot 12, formerly at Weston, Warwickshire) – from a set
- Fenton House, National Trust, NT 1449069
- Thomas Plume’s Library, X.1.3
- sold at Christies inscribed in the picture as Henry IV as part of a pair with sitter named as Edward VII on 1st July 2013
- sold at Christies on 29th October 2015
Daunt, Catherine, 'Portrait Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England', unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sussex, 2015
Farrell, Jerome, ‘Tree Rings Reveal Secrets of Royal Portrait’, Leathersellers’ Review 2011/12, pp. 12-13
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp. 263-4
Tudor-Craig, Pamela, Richard III, National Portrait Gallery, 1973, p. 86
‘Great Britons: Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery’, National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, USA, 2007
‘Richard III’, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1973
Compare Images (what's this?)
Compare high-resolution images against the painting - mainly x-ray and infra-red photography images, but sometimes UV or raking light images - side by side with the ability to zoom in on details.
The paint and support are in good structural condition and are stable. There are areas of raised paint visible, particularly in the dark purple costume and background, but these appear stable. The general appearance is good and the varnish is clear and even.
Number of boards: 2
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
The panel has been thinned and a wooden cradle attached to the back; this is made with seven vertical members and seven horizontal members. The horizontal members are fixed into the vertical members at the sides and were not made to slide. The panel appears to be stable and although the sturdy cradle is rigid, it does not appear to be causing any problems.
An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.
Number of boards: 2
Last date of tree ring: 1569
For the purpose of analysis the boards were labelled A and B from the left (from the front). Both boards had sufficient rings for analysis and the ring sequences match eastern Baltic data. They also closely matched each other and the boards were evidently derived from the same tree. The date of the last heartwood ring identified on Board A is 1569 and on Board B last ring it is 1566. Adding the appropriate minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggests a felling date after 1577. Board A is slightly narrower than the typical width for an eastern Baltic board which suggests that it might have been trimmed. It is therefore not appropriate to apply an eastern Baltic 8-40 year LEHR-usage range to this panel.
A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.
The panel joins and the cradle can be seen in the x-ray and the areas of paint loss and restoration are also evident (see x-ray mosaic 01). The brushstrokes in the paint layers are very clear and the paint appears to have been applied quite rapidly. The thin priming is broadly applied. The strong brushstrokes in the lighter parts of the pattern on the background appear very dense in x-ray and there is evidently a good proportion of lead based paint above and behind the figure. The light paint layer was applied first and then the pattern was painted wet-in-wet into this layer. The lighter paint appears paste-like with large particles of white lead. The mordant for the gilding on the costume also appears paste-like with similar large particles of white lead. The fine brushwork of the yellow pattern at the top of the painting is very clear in x-ray. The brushstrokes in the flesh paint are also very clear.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Using infrared reflectography underdrawing was noted in the face, hair and costume (see DIRR 01). The face, hair, hat, neck and features were carefully outlined, suggesting that a pattern was used. The traced pattern was then reinforced with tentative freehand lines in what appears to be wet medium. Details such as folds in the neck, curls in the hair and the jawline were then drawn in a more freehand manner, in what was likely to be a secondary 'embellishment' stage (see IRR mosaic 02). The hands are underdrawn in a manner that suggests a pattern may have been used (see IRR mosaic 01). Some freehand marks are also evident, positioning the fingers and rings. The paint closely follows the underdrawing. The grey underpaint, seen beneath the flesh paint during surface examination is visible in infrared reflectography. Comparison between NPG 148 and other versions from Hatfield House and The Royal Collection has been very interesting. In all three versions, the same pattern appears to have been used. What appears clear however, is that the face and body (including the hands) were drawn from two separate patterns and not a whole cartoon. When a tracing of NPG 148 was laid over the other two versions, the faces matched, but not the body and hands. When the pattern was adjusted so that the hands aligned, the rest of the body and costume were also aligned, but not the head. This indicates that the face pattern was distinct from the body pattern.
Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.
Paint samples were taken to analyse the pigments and layer structure of the painting in June 2010
Further samples were taken again in August 2010 in order to investigate the decorative spandrels in the top corners of the background.
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground and a pale grey lead-based priming.
Sample 10: A sample from the cheek contained a vermilion and white mixture, with some underdrawing.
Sample 9: Dispersion of the red costume at the neck shows it is painted with dry process vermilion.
Sample 8: Dispersion of mordant under the gold on the sleeve on the right slash is a mixture red lead, lead white, a little red ochre and traces of black.
Sample 7b: Dispersion of the mordant on the sleeve contains particles of red lead, red ochre, and yellow (which might be lead-tin yellow), and scattered particles of black.
Sample 4: Cross-section shows priming which appears to be darker in the shadow area at the left; over this is the opaque red layer with vermilion, some red lake and dark particles, then a red lake glaze over the opaque red and overpaint over the red lake layer. In darker areas of the background the deeper tone seems to have been achieved with a second or thicker layer of red glaze.
Spandrels on upper background
There are small traces and residues of light yellowish brown mordant for gold leaf. These were investigated to see if there is a surface dirt or varnish layer beneath these, as they were applied over the lead-tin yellow. No layer was found between the upper red and the yellow. The traces of mordant on the background were compared with the mordant under the gilding on the sleeve. This appears to be different as no red lead was found.
An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.
Painting style and method
The painting appears to have been executed rapidly, following a very systematic process. A pattern was evidently used and the painted surface follows the underdrawing very closely. The paint in the background is handled with skilful brushwork and manipulation of paint layers. The red lake glaze is also handled skilfully. Residues of mordant and fragments of gilding show that the yellow corner pattern has been covered at some time with gilded spandrels. The paint surface does not extend to the side edges (see Support).
The panel is prepared with a chalk ground, and there is a pale lead-based grey priming over this. This can be seen at the top edge and at the sides, where the paint surface does not cover the preparation layers at the side edges. Apart from the preparation layers, the edges were left unpainted presumably to be covered by a framework. Underdrawing was carried out with a black sparkly material. This can be seen along most outlines, and can be seen also in the upper-left background where it was probably used to outline part of the original gilded spandrels.
There is a grey underlayer beneath the flesh paint, applied quite broadly with a fairly stiff brush (see micro 06). The flesh paint contains lead white, vermilion, red lake, and black in varying proportions, smoothly blended (see micro 04). The shadow on the neck and chin is painted with the same varied mixtures as the other shadows on the face. The edge of the chin is defined with a line of lighter paint.
The eyes are simply painted (see micro 01). The grey pupils are painted with black and white. The whites of the eyes are also painted with black and white and there do not appear to be any blue pigment particles. The translucent particles in the paint mixture appear to be lead soaps. The inner corners of the eyes and the lower lashes are painted with a mixture of vermilion or red lead. There is a high proportion of red lake in the tear ducts of the eyes (see micro 03). The paint mixture in the upper lashes contains some black. The brown shadow on the eye lids and the eye brows are painted with black, vermilion and large particles of red lake.
The shadow round the nose is painted with varied proportions of the same mixture as the outline to the eyelids (see micro 20). Some final shadows were painted along the brow at the edge of the hat, after the hat was painted. There are black pigments particles scatted over the flesh paint.
The hands are painted with a similar mixture of pigments to the face, used in varied proportions for the flesh and shadows (see micro 07). The veins on the hands were applied above the flesh paint, using a thin grey paint mixture.
Hair and hat
The hair was painted after the flesh and the background and the hat appears to have been painted at the same time. The gilding for the hat badge was applied over a grey/buff mordant before the black hat paint was applied.
The red garment visible at the neck is painted with an opaque red layer with a red lake glaze layer applied over it. Fragments of gold leaf can be seen, with microscopy, beneath the red lake glaze where gilding for the striped jacket had been applied on the opaque red. The gilding on the striped jacket, where the front, sleeves and collar can be seen beneath the coat, was applied over a warm, pale grey mordant. The pattern was painted with a mixture of verdigris, lead white, yellow and a little black (see micro 10). A translucent brown glaze, containing red lake and black particles was applied over the green pattern. The gilding for the jewelled collar was applied at the same time as the other areas of gilding. The pearls were applied first with black and white. The shadows are painted with an opaque brown mixture which appear to be restoration. The jewels have a red lake or a copper green glaze over the gilding. The lead white highlights on the jewels were applied last. The purple coat is painted with white and red lake pigments mixed in varying proportions for highlight and shadow, above a dark grey underlayer (see micro 08). Considerable residues of brown overpaint remain on the paint surface, although much of it was removed in 1972. The fur lining to the coat was painted with fine brushstrokes (see micro 09 and micro 19).
The gilding was applied over the flesh paint, and the red glazes for the jewels were applied over the gilding (see micro 18). The ring, held on the tip of the little finger on the hand on the left, appears to have a bluish stone or pearl painted with a mixture of black, white and red lake particles (see micro 12).
The opaque underlayer (containing vermilion, some red lake, a little black and lead white) was rapidly and thinly applied with strong brushstrokes. The lighter part at the top contains more lead white. A strong red lake glaze, containing a little black, was applied thinly overall. The red glaze contains large undissolved particles. The pattern was then applied wet-in-wet with a stiffer brush with a paint mixture containing red lake and black. The pattern texture was created by pushing the brush into the still tacky paint layers below. A further red glaze with black mixture was applied to the areas of shadow (see micro 14).
The paint surface is heavily abraded, most likely by solvent action during cleaning, and the damage to the red lake has considerably altered the tonality. When viewed under high magnification some parts of the shadow areas in the lower-right background have a fractured appearance, with light scattering within the paint layer. This appears to be damage within the red glaze, probably caused by solvent action.
The opaque underlayer is also damaged, with tiny pitted paint losses. There are many lead soaps in the paint mixtures and these losses are probably where lead soaps have been removed by abrasion.
The paint surface is scattered all over with numerous black pigments particles, some of which have a sparkly appearance. These could be particles from the underdrawing which has a sparkly black appearance, and is probably charcoal.
Gilded spandrels were removed from the upper corners when the painting was cleaned in 1972, and the yellow decoration beneath was exposed (see micro 17). In raking light, the curved shape of the lower part of these spandrels can be seen in the paint surface. It is not clear when the gold spandrels were applied but they must have been applied at an early date, as the background paint has a smoother surface where it is was covered by the gold spandrels and the surface of the red lake appears less faded than the rest of the background (see micro 21). Numerous small residues of light grey mordant can be seen with microscopy in the spandrel area, around and sometimes over the yellow decoration at the top of the background. There are small traces of gold leaf over some of the warm, light grey mordant residues (see micro 22). The yellow decoration was applied most likely at the same time as the inscription and both appear to be painted with lead-tin yellow and perhaps some white. The yellow pattern was created using both sides of the same stencil. After application with the stencil, the pattern was defined further with freehand brushstrokes. The surface of the yellow paint has been abraded and pitted. The surface has evidently been scraped, unlike the inscription which is painted with the same pigments but has a smooth surface without abrasion.
The inscription was painted with lead-tin yellow above the red background (see micro 16). The paint mixture is the same as the yellow pattern but, unlike the pattern, the surface is not abraded or pitted.
Order of construction
- Preparation layers: ground, pale priming, underdrawing
- Grey underlayer for the flesh
- First flesh paint
- Background: opaque underlayer, then red glaze overall, then red lake with black used for pattern, then further red glaze with black mixture was painted over the shadow parts of the background
- Further flesh paint
- Grey underlayer for purple coat
- Grey mordant for gilding on costume
- Gilding on jewelled collar, jacket, rings, hat badge and spandrels
- Purple on coat
- The inscription and yellow stencilled pattern applied at the top
- Later, the gilded spandrels were applied; gilded over a pale mordant
- Still later, gilded spandrels were scraped off, leaving small residues of the grey mordant, some with residues of gilding
Lead white, black, vermilion, red lead, red lake, verdigris, copper green glaze, lead-tin yellow, earth pigments, gold leaf
Changes in composition/pentimenti
It is evident that there were gilded spandrels at the top, which were subsequently scraped off. The yellow pattern at the top appears to have been applied before the spandrels were applied over it, and then subsequently removed to reveal the yellow pattern.
There are a number of small restored paint losses in the upper part of the costume and larger more numerous paint losses in the lower part, and also in the hand on the right. The surface of the purple costume is uneven with old fillings and restoration. Numerous residues of old brown overpaint remain on the purple costume. There are considerable areas of more recent restoration on many parts of the purple costume. The yellow spandrels have been strengthened with restoration. There is restoration also on the shadows at the sides of the background where solid spandrels were once blocked in.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
The panel join has been retouched and considerable restoration can be seen on the purple costume in ultra violet light (see UV 01). There are also areas of restoration at the sides of the background in the area where the solid spandrels were once present. The restoration at the left side follows the curved line of the lower part of the old spandrel shape. The yellow pattern at the top has been strengthened. Thin opaque residues of an older varnish remain over much of the surface and some older restoration can be seen beneath the varnish in the parts of the purple costume.
See this portrait
On display in Room 1 at the National Portrait Gallery