Category Archives: Fourteenth-Century

Eighty-seven

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The Wilton Diptych

c1395-9, French or English
The National Gallery

Postcard seventy-seven was the White Hart, the majestic stag that sits on the back of The Wilton Diptych. The front is perhaps better known, showing King Richard II (1377-1399) being presenting to the Virgin and child. The majesty in this piece lies in the luxury of gold that adorns the canvas; gilt wood providing a glittering setting for the scene Richard II intends us to celebrate. This piece, though beautiful in its own right, is also a spectacular piece of propaganda; Richard II kneels accompanied by his patron Saint — John the Baptist — looking towards the flocking angels that all have the White Hart emblem tied to their breast. Though clearly from Heaven they are branded with support, the White Hart being Richard II’s particular symbol, as well as holding St. George’s flying flag. This, however, does little to distract from the delicacy the angels are painted with; their fragile features mirroring that of the Virgin’s, with pale oval faces they cross their arms in respect. The quality of the paint, luminous on board, is particularly manipulated in the angels’ draped cloaking and darkly tipped wings. All are given the Virgin’s characteristic bright blue, the colour diluting across them from her central figure, ending in almost translucent pale indigo at the bottom of their rippling gowns.

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Seventy-seven

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The White Hart from ‘The Wilton Diptych’

c1395-9, French or English
The National Gallery

In the middle of an expanse of one of the Sainsbury Wing rooms, the White Hart, the adopted symbol of Richard II, sits on the back of a gleaming gold panel. Double sided – you can walk all around the structure – gives the piece an illustrious presence; the screen has become a sculptural piece and perhaps no illustration is as captivating on this glittering gold as the stag. Brilliant white he is clearly symbolic, majestically sitting on fairy tale grass and flowers, tied by his fantastical gold chain and crown. Barely visible against the background, the antlers shimmer as a transparent shadow, subtly masculine and commanding, they add to his magical guise. His antlers act as a halo, he is almost God-like in his depiction, sacred, fitting with the monarchy’s determination to associate themselves with the Deity. Despite the typical two-dimensional style of fourteenth-century painting, the body of the stag is cast with an impressive attention to mass of form; his white skin is all highlights and shadows, creating the weight and bulk of animal. His face is elegant, calm and composed, regally reflective; the Hart is an illustrative symbol, possessing the magical presence of a mythological character, the ghost of an everlasting emblem of a courtly and medieval past.

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