King Richard III
1 of 27 portraits of King Richard III
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)
Given by James Thomson Gibson-Craig, 1862
Sitterback to top
- King Richard III (1452-1485), Reigned 1483-85. Sitter associated with 27 portraits.
This portraitback to top
This portrait, in which he appears to be placing a ring on the little finger of his right hand, has been seen by some as evidence of his cruel nature and by others as evidence of his humanity.
This is a particularly fine example of a standard portrait of Richard III of which other versions exist and which may have been copied from an original lost portrait of the king made during his lifetime. It was painted in oils on oak panel in the late sixteenth century; tree-ring dating analysis of the panel support (dendrochronology) has revealed that the wood came from a tree that was felled after 1577. Wood from the same tree has been identified in a portrait of Henry VI in the collection of the Leathersellers’ Company, London, indicating that this painting was probably created as part of a set of royal portraits.
Richard’s posthumous reputation was shaped by the Tudors, first through Sir Thomas More’s ‘History of King Richard III’ and then by William Shakespeare’s iconic characterisation of the king as a devious ruler who was adept at manipulating human weakness in his quest for power. Many scholars and supporters have subsequently tried to rehabilitate Richard’s reputation, including the
author Josephine Tey. In her popular detective novel ‘The Daughter of Time’, her character Inspector Alan Grant’s conviction of the king’s innocence of the murders of the princes in the tower is sparked by his interpretation of Richard’s character from this portrait.
All the known paintings of Richard were completed after his death. One of the earliest portraits, dating from around 1510 may represent the closest likeness of what Richard looked like in life, survives in the Society of Antiquities. Geneticist Turi King, who extracted DNA from Richard’s skeleton, was able to determine that Richard had a high probability of blue eyes and, at least
in childhood, blond hair.
Related worksback to top
Linked publicationsback to top
- Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 5
- Audio Guide
- Smartify image discovery app
- Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 12
- Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 24
- Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 11
- Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of The Tudors, 2006, p. 2
- John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 11
- MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 5
- Parris, Matthew, Heroes and Villains: Scarfe at the National Portrait Gallery, 2003 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 30 September 2003 to 4 April 2004), p. 113
- Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 25
- Pointon, Marcia, Hanging the head : portraiture and social formation in eighteenth-¿century England, 1993, p. 244 number 291
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 31
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 30 Read entry
It is appropriate to begin any discussion of the Portrait Gallery's collection with the painting of Richard III, acquired in 1862. Nobody claims that it is a great work of art. It is thought to be a late sixteenth-century copy of a fifteenth-century painting, which itself was not necessarily done from life. On the other hand, paintings of Richard III - and particularly this one - have always been regarded as essential documents in the interpretation of his character, as is evident in Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time. The portrait shows him tight-lipped and slightly puzzled, not necessarily the villain he was subsequently thought to be.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 520
- Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 263
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 30 Read entry
The last king of England from the House of York, Richard III ruled from 1483 until his death two years later, slain by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard’s coronation followed the disappearance of Edward V (then a minor) and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, from the Tower of London.
This portrait was not painted from life but made in the late sixteenth century, more than 100 years after Richard’s death. The likeness was probably copied from an original drawing or painting (now lost). The date of this portrait has recently been confirmed by tree-ring dating of the oak panel.
In 2013 a skeleton recovered from the site of Grey Friars Church, Leicester, was formally identified as that of the King.
- Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 79
- Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 80
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1570back to top
Current affairsPope Pius V issues a Papal 'bull' excommunicating Queen Elizabeth I from the Catholic Church. The bull provokes widespread anti-Catholicism in England.
Elizabeth contemplates marriage with either Charles, Archduke of Austria or Henri, Duke of Anjou.
Art and sciencePublication of The Scholemaster by the royal tutor Roger Ascham, which popularises the educational views of the English nobility.
The mathematician and antiquary John Dee's preface to the first English translation of Euclid's Elements of Geometrie anticipates the experimental science of the seventeenth century.
The Italian architect Andrea Palladio published I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture).
InternationalTreaty of St Germain-en-Laye ends the Third War of Religion in France. Huguenots (French Protestants) are granted religious freedom and the Huguenot leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny becomes a dominant force at court.
The Treaty of Stettin - Denmark agrees to recognise the independence of Sweden and Sweden abandons its claim to Norway.
Ivan IV (the Terrible), Tsar of Russia, oversees the Massacre of Novgorod.
Watch our playlist exploring scientific techniques used by the Gallery to unlock the secrets behind our Tudor portraits.
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