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King Richard III

2 of 27 portraits of King Richard III

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King Richard III, by Unknown artist, 1597-1618 - NPG 4980(12) - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

King Richard III

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, 1597-1618
22 1/2 in. x 17 5/8 in. (570 mm x 448 mm) uneven
NPG 4980(12)


The portrait set is the product of a number of workshops; within this set, this portrait is closely linked to the portrait of Richard II.

This portrait is part of a set of sixteen portraits of English kings and queens. The set was previously at Hornby Castle near Bedale, the North Yorkshire seat of the Duke of Leeds, where it was recorded hanging in a corridor gallery in catalogues of 1898 and 1902. Its previous history is unknown but it was possibly acquired for Hornby Castle by the Darcy family. The set was on loan to the Gallery from 1930, following the death of the 10th Duke of Leeds in 1927, and was purchased in 1974 from the 10th Duke of Leeds Will Trust.

Historical context
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 1504-1520 and recorded in the 1542 and 1547 inventories of Henry VIII’s collection. It is possible that the type derives from a lost life portrait; it was commonly used in portrait sets of English kings and queens from the 1580s.

Notes on attribution
This portrait is the product of an English workshop. The sixteen portraits in the set appear to have been sourced from several different workshops. There are some similarities in the way the jewels have been painted in this portrait and the portrait of Richard II (NPG 4980(8)). The panels used for these portraits also contain wood from a common tree and it is therefore likely that they came from the same source.

Justification for dating
Some of the portraits in the set appear to be directly based on woodcuts from a series published in London in 1597 (Thomas Talbot, A Booke Containing the True Portraiture of the Kings of England) so it is likely that the set was produced after this date. Unlike the majority of sets of English kings and queens made after 1618, none of the portraits are based on engravings from Henry Holland’s Baziliologia, which was published in that year. It is likely, therefore, that this set was produced before the Baziliologia was published. The materials and methods used to produce this portrait are entirely consistent with paintings from this period; dendrochronological analysis indicates that the tree used for the panel is likely to have been felled between 1588 and 1603.

The painting is in a good condition with only small areas of paint loss associated with cracks in the panel.

Painting technique
The portrait is painted simply. The paint handling in some areas, such as the jewels, is comparable to that seen in the portrait of Richard II. The gilding in particular is very similar, and of a higher quality than that seen in the other portraits in the set.

Drawing and transfer technique
It is difficult to make out any definite underdrawing, although infrared reflectography does show the reserves left in the black costume for the hands, with the black paint brushed up into the reserve. It also shows the slight change in the shape of the hand on the right.

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 previously in the collection of the Duke of Leeds at Hornby Castle, Yorkshire
- Syon House (Duke of Northumberland, formerly at Albury) – from a set
- Government Art Collection
- Dulwich Picture Gallery, DPG531
- 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
- Society of Antiquaries, LDSAL 321;Scharf XX
- Fenton House, National Trust, NT 1449069
- Thomas Plume’s Library, X.1.3

Cooper, Tarnya, ‘The Enchantment of the Familiar Face: Portraits as Domestic Objects in Elizabethan and Jacobean England’ in Hamling, Tara and Richardson, Catherine (eds.), Everyday Objects: Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture and its Meanings, 2010, pp. 157-177
Daunt, Catherine, ‘Portrait Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England’ unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sussex, 2015
Daunt, Catherine, Heroes and Worthies: Emerging Antiquarianism and the Taste for Portrait Sets in England', in T. Cooper, A. Burnstock, M. Howard and E. Town, eds, Painting in Britain 1500-1630: Production, Influences and Patronage, 2015, pp. 362-75
Gibson, Robin, ‘The National Portrait Gallery’s Set of Kings and Queens at Montacute House’ in The National Trust Yearbook, 1975, pp. 81-87
Gibson, Robin, ‘A Jacobean Gallery of the Kings and Queens of England’, Folio, Spring 1995 (The Folio Society, London), pp. 9-16
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, I, pp. 263-64
Tudor-Craig, Pamela, Richard III, exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, London, 1973 (2nd ed. 1977)


Micro 01. Detail of eye on the left (7.1 x ma…
Micro 02. Detail of eye on the right (7.1 x m…
Micro 03. Detail showing blending of flesh pa…
Micro 04. Detail of inscription (12.5 x mag).
Micro 05. Detail of background, showing layer…
Micro 06. Detail of ring on finger (7.1 x mag…
Micro 07. Detail of fur over sleeve (7.1 x ma…
UV 01. Front of the panel in ultra violet lig…
Reverse 01. Back of the panel in raking light…

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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.

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The panel is in a stable condition. There are cracks at the left and right of the lower edge and in the background to the left of the head. These appear to be stable, but with tiny paint losses in the lower-right crack. The paint is a little raised in parts of the face, in parts of the background, and in the costume down the join, but appears to be stable. The restoration appears reasonably well matched. The varnish is even and semi-matt.


Support type: Eastern Baltic oak

Number of boards: 2

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The panel join has been secured on the reverse with canvas and adhesive at the top of the join. There are two repaired nail holes at the right edge, in the centre and at the bottom. There is a short repaired split at the lower right and another at the upper left. The lower split and the nail hole at the right edge have been repaired on the reverse with wood filler. There is a hole in the middle of the panel, approximately 6 cm from the upper edge (in the jewel on the hat), which has been filled. This has disrupted the paint on the front of the panel, which has been secured and retouched. There are two paper National Portrait Gallery labels on the reverse of the panel and a smaller white paper sticker. There is also some writing in a dark red material including the numerals 'VI'.

Dendrochronology (what's this? )


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: 1580


For analysis the boards were labelled A and B from the left (from the front). Neither board retained any sapwood. The ring sequence on board A matches strongly with the sequence on board A of Richard II (NPG 4980(8)), indicating that they derive from the same tree. The sequences were combined into a single composite series. The last ring on board B dated to 1580. Board B on the linked Richard II panel has a series with 2 sapwood rings ending at 1581. Adding the maximum and minimum expected number of sapwood rings to both these boards provided a combined interpretation for a felling date between 1588 and 1603. Board A is a typical width (310mm) for an eastern Baltic board and it is unlikely that it has been trimmed significantly.

X-radiography (what's this? )


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 wood grain and panel join are evident in x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01). The unusual mottled appearance of the x-ray likely relates to the application of the priming layer applied in a characteristic manner that can be compared with Henry VIII (NPG 4980 (14)) . The paint handling in the flesh is soft and blended. There are nail holes in the hat, presumably from an old hanging method.

Infrared reflectography (what's this? )

Infra-Red Reflectographyclose

A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.

It is difficult to make out any definite underdrawing using infrared reflectography, but it is possible to see the reserves left in the black costume for the hands, with the black paint brushed up into the reserve (see DIRR01). It also shows the slight change made to the shape of the hand on the right.

Paint sampling (what's this? )

Paint Samplingclose

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 for analysis in April 2011.

The panel was prepared with a chalk ground and a pale grey priming.

Black cloak
Sample 1: Cross-section shows the chalk ground (possibly in two applications) with a thick pale grey priming over it. Above the priming there is a dark grey paint layer containing lead white and carbon black, and possible traces of red particles. Over the dark grey layer there is a translucent red glaze.

Red background
Sample 2: Cross-section shows the chalk ground and traces of the pale grey priming. Above these there is a bright red layer of paint containing what is probably red ochre (very fine particles) with some carbon black and red lake. Over this layer there is a deep rich red lake glaze which appears to be a madder lake.

Surface examination (what's this? )

Surface Examinationclose

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
Dendrochronology has linked this painting with the portrait of Richard II (NPG 4980(8)) from the same set, and the handling of the paint in some areas has been found to be similar.

Preparation layers
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground and a pale grey priming, which contains lead white and black. It is difficult to make out any underdrawing, but the composition is planned with clear reserves left for the hands.

The flesh has an underlayer of warm grey paint. The flesh has been modelled using more textured brushstrokes and blending than seen on Richard II (NPG 4980(8)). The flesh paint contains vermilion, red lake, black, and lead white in varying proportions (see micro 03). Soft brown paint has been used to emphasise the shadows and features of the face. The lips are thinly painted, with a line of paint containing red lake defining the parting of the mouth. The hands were painted after the gilding, which can clearly be seen in some areas below the flesh paint (see micro 06). The black of the costume also appears to run underneath the flesh paint at the edges of the hands but over the gilded areas. A reserve was left for the hands, and during painting the position of the hand on the right was slightly altered; the flesh paint in this area has been applied over the top of the black costume.

Earth pigments and black have been used for the iris, with white blended in to create variation in tone. The whites of the eyes have been loosely painted over the grey underlayer of the flesh (see micro 01 and micro 02). The paint mixture contains lead white with a high proportion of black pigment and a small quantity of red; a lighter paint mix has been used to show light reflecting on the eyes. A highlight of lead white paint has been applied to the pupil using a small brushstroke with two smaller dabs of paint at the end. The upper eyelid and corners of the eyes have been defined with a red brushstroke containing vermilion and red lake. A darker brown mix of paint has also been used on the upper eyelid and the eyelashes have been painted on the lower lid using black paint and very fine brushstrokes.

Eyebrows and hair
The eyebrows have been painted in a simple manner. Thin brown paint marks the shape of the brow, over which a few individual hairs have been emphasised with strokes of black paint. The hair has been blocked in using a thin medium-rich brown paint applied in a very brushy manner. At a later stage, further paint has been applied, which was loosely blended to depict individual strands of hair that extend over the red paint of the background.

Costume and hat
The gilded elements of the costume have been applied over a beige mordant containing lead white, charcoal black and a small amount of red lake. The paint handling of the jewels on the chain of office is similar to that seen on Richard II (NPG 4980(8)). The jewels have been painted using thick red lake and copper green glazes over the gilding, and the highlights have been carefully applied with lead white. Further details on the gilded areas have been marked out with a medium-rich brown paint, which in some areas has been reinforced with black. This brown paint has also been used on the edges of the gilded sleeves to depict the fur of the coat. Paint sampling revealed that the cloak has been painted with a dark grey paint layer containing black and lead white, with a translucent red glaze applied over the top. At the edges of the sleeves the paint has been dragged down to create the illusion of fur; this has been applied over the translucent brown paint over the gilding (micro 07). A reserve has been left for the hat, which has been painted using the same paint mixture as the coat.

Background and inscription
There is evidence of a grey underlayer beneath the red background, but it is unclear if this is the same warm grey layer seen beneath the flesh paint. An overall layer of red has been applied over the background area containing fine particles of red ochre mixed with a little black and red lake. The pattern of the background has been applied over this layer with a red lake glaze containing varying proportions of black for the areas in shadow (see micro 05). The inscription has been painted using a warm tone of lead-tin yellow (see micro 04).

Order of construction
- Ground
- Priming
- Possible underdrawing
- Grey underlayers for flesh and background
- Mordant and gilding
- Jewels and details on gilded areas
- Flesh modelling
- Blocking in layers for hair and coat
- Red background
- Costume and hat
- Inscription

Lead white, charcoal black, red lake, vermilion, copper green glaze, lead-tin yellow, earth pigments, gold leaf, red ochre

Changes in composition/pentimenti
A slight change was made to the position of the hand on the right.

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.

There are areas of restoration, which appear black in ultra violet light, down the panel join and scattered in the flesh paint (see UV 01). The old varnish has been removed unevenly and there are remaining areas which appear opaque with green fluorescence in ultra violet.


Frame type: Not original.

Frame date: Late 20th century.


Carved and ebonised frame with Egg and Dart motifs.