Wilton diptych – Medieval art (14th century AD)


This painting is called the Wilton diptych. It was made around 1395. This 50 cm high diptych is now in the National Gallery of London. On a golden background the king Richard II is being introduced to Jesus and Mary.

On the left panel, the English king Richard II is depicted kneeling down with three saints. Saint John the Baptist introduces the king to the group of the right panel composed of Mary, Jesus, and the angels. The two other saints are holy kings of England: Edward the Confessor and Edmund the Martyr. This painting shows luxury and refinement in the delicate clothing and the mat of flowerets.

This diptych has a politic goal was used to demonstrate the king’s devotion. On the exterior left panel, we can see the king’s arms which consist of the arms of Edward the Confessor (even though theses were invented, as there were no arms in the 11th century) overlaid with the arms of England. Behind the blazon there is a silver knight’s helmet, a red fur hat for ceremonies, and a crowned lion. The display of the arms is important for dating the diptych. Indeed, Richard II started to use them in this exact way only from 1395. The exterior right panel  depicts Richard’s badge, which is a white hart with a gold crown around its neck. The antlers are made with gold leaf but they stand out from the background by the use of the pointillé technique. The hart is the king’s emblem because it is majestic, so we call it a “rich hart” whose pronunciation is closed to the king’s name.


On the inside panels, we can see this badge as brooch and embroidery on Richard. His brooch is so white, it reminds us of white enamel. As a necklace, he wears a kind of flower called common broom. In Latin, this plant is called planta genista recalling the king’s family name (Plantagenet). If you look closely at the angels, you can see that they also have those brooches which means that the king sees them as staff. However, there is a difference in the brooches. The angels’ ones are not as sumptuous as the king’s one, there is a fake equality in the sharing out of the brooches. So in this painting we can suppose that the king sees the angels as inferior staff.

                  richard II       angels

The king is kneeling down but he isn’t praying. His hands are opened in the donation gesture. He just gave the standard that we can see on the right panel. Jesus gives a blessing gesture towards the standard bearing Saint George’s cross, which is the English flag. This means that the kingdom is under the Christ’s protection. After a restoration, specialists discovered in the metallic ball (on top of the standard) a ship with a white sail and a land. This is a representation of England. As you can see, this whole painting is a political statement. It is used to enhance the king’s power and the superiority of England. He wants to show that he has the divine right to rule the kingdom which is protected by the Christ.

                         bal394979        land


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