Wilton Diptych


(lighthearted music) Male Voiceover: We’re in the
National Gallery in London, and we’re looking at a painting
that’s called the Wilton Diptych. Female Voiceover: It’s
called the Wilton Diptych because of the family that owned it until the early 20th century when it
was acquired by the National Gallery. Male Voiceover: It’s
a diptych, which means that it’s two panels that are hinged so this could be closed, and the
inner paintings have been protected. Female Voiceover: It’s made
to be a portable object that could be opened and
then used as a aid in prayer. It was owned by someone very important; it was owned and made for the
king of England, King Richard II. Male Voiceover: It’s a really
rare painting, and it’s gorgeous. Female Voiceover: You can
see it’s been used a lot. Male Voiceover: But the inside panels,
at least, are in really good condition. On the left you see four
figures against a broad, gold ground that, if you
look at very closely, has been decorated; it’s been tooled, that is, a punch has been
used and hammered into it to create this very
fine lace-like pattern. Female Voiceover: You can see
tangibles and vines; very intricate. Male Voiceover: The three men are St. Edmond on the left, St. Edward
the Confessor in the middle, St. John the Baptist
on the right, standing, and the king, himself,
Richard II, kneeling. Female Voiceover: Each of these figures can be identified by their attributes. St. Edmond carrying an arrow
that he was martyred with. St. Edward carrying a
ring that’s associated with a miracle that he performed, and on the right, St. John holding a lamb. Male Voiceover: Then, down
below, of course, the king. Female Voiceover: He’s
wearing his personal emblem, a white stag, or a deer
on a chain of pearls. Male Voiceover: You can see that both, in the cloth that he’s wearing,
as well as around his neck. Three of these four figures were kings
of England; they all wear crowns. St. Edmond and Edward
the Confessor were both especially pious kings
that were made saints. Female Voiceover:
Richard II is shown here; very piously kneeling and
looking across the diptych, where we see the scene of heaven,
a sort of garden of paradise. Male Voiceover: Well, it’s
a crowded paradise too, and it’s spectacularly beautiful. All of this is in a style that
we call the international gothic, and the figures are very elegant. We have the Virgin Mary
holding the Christ child, and surrounding those two figures is this wonderful group of angels. FFemale Voiceover: One art
historian has suggested that there are 11 angels,
because Richard II was 11 when he became the king of England. Let’s go back to the king
and what’s happening, because we have the Virgin
Mary holding the Christ child, holding up his foot as though to show us where the nails will go
during the crucifixion. Christ pulls away from
her toward the king, and so you have this
relationship across the diptych between King Richard
II and Mary and Christ. Christ seems to be reaching toward
this banner held by an angel. The angel looks up at Christ, and at
the top we see flag of St. George. St. George was the
patron saint of England. Male Voiceover: At the top
of that banner in an orb, and a recent cleaning has revealed that orb contains an image of an island floating in the center of a sea of sliver. Female Voiceover: The little
castle on that island, actually, and the ship in the sea, a
couple of hundred years later, Shakespeare wrote in his
play about Richard II of this little world, this precious stone set in the silver sea,
referring to England. Male Voiceover: Now, let’s be
clear about the chronology here. This painting is much
earlier than Shakespeare, and so we have no idea if
Shakespeare would have seen this, if they were both referring
to a common source, or if there’s any relationship
whatsoever; but it’s very tantalizing. Female Voiceover: The idea of the
king getting his right to rule from the Virgin Mary and from Christ, this divine right to rule England. Male Voiceover: Well, look who
Richard II has had himself flanked by, kings that represent a kind of piety, a kind of religious precedent
that he is modeling himself on; and, of course, a special relationship, not only with the Virgin Mary,
but also with John the Baptist. In each, the inner panels’
figures glance towards the other, they are interacting,
even though they exist in separate worlds, in separate realms. Richard’s presence can really
be felt in the right panel. Each of those figures, with
the exception of Christ, is adorned by the emblem of Richard II, and you can see that white stag on the left breast of
each of those angels. There is this divine right
that is being expressed. His authority comes directly from heaven. Female Voiceover: But
it’s also as if the angels are somehow part of his
court, or his retinue. Male Voiceover: Absolutely. The entire
painting is fabulously decorative. Not only do you have this wonderful garden
below, but look at the angels’ wings. Female Voiceover: If you look very closely at the gold halo around Christ,
you can see that the artist scratched in this motif
of the crown of thorns. So, both in the way that
Mary holds out Christ’s foot, and in that reference
to the crown of thorns, we have the idea of salvation through
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Male Voiceover: There’s
also a tremendous contrast that’s drawn between the
violence in the crown of thorns, and the crown that the angels
wear, crowns of rose blossoms. It’s just a spectacular painting. Let’s take a look at the exterior panels. These are large and simpler images. On the right, you see the white
stag, the emblem of Richard II. You can see that the stag
has around his neck a crown, and then hanging from that, is a chain. Look at those antlers, that have almost
disappeared against the gold ground, but are tooled differently,
so you can just make them out. Female Voiceover: He’s in a
field of flowers and rosemary, which is also part of his personal emblem. Male Voiceover: On this opposite panel, you have the emblems
of France, of England. France, you can see the fluer de lis; England, you can just barely make out what had once been a stack of three lions, and you can see that on the
right side of the shield. On the left side, you can
see a cross with five birds. Then, there’s a lion above that. Female Voiceover: Now, the
outside panels have not survived as well as the inside
panels, which makes sense. Make Voiceover: Well, they were
made to protect the inside, and they’ve done a good job. Female Voiceover: This
is painted with so much ultra-marine blue, which would have been such an expensive paint to
use, and so much gold here. Male Voiceover: The entire object
feels precious. It feels like a gem. (lighthearted music)

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