The Wilton Diptych at the National Gallery

One of the works of art that you must really see if you visit the National Gallery in London. A crowning example of Gothic art, the Wilton Diptych is a portable altarpiece that features a portrait of Richard II, the young king who kneels in the left-hand panel. It is an extremely rare survival of a late Medieval religious panel painting from England that survived the destruction ordered by Henry VIII. The earliest records of the Wilton Diptych suggest that it was a standard devotional piece.

He is accompanied by John the Baptist and two English saints, Edmund and Edward the Confessor. The Wilton Diptych is a beautiful painting on two panels of oak. Closed, it measures 45.8 cm × 69.1 cm (18 in × 27¾ in). The panel surfaces are in great condition for their age. The only issue is minor paint loss from being handled over the years.

However, the format also enabled the artist to create an extraordinarily flattering image of the monarch. It was not unusual for patrons to appear alongside sacred figures, but their presence was usually fairly discreet.

It would appear from the Wilton Diptych as though the monarch was given permission to have a one-on-one conversation with the Virgin Mary. An expression of calmness spreads across the face of the Infant Christ as he reaches out to him, and angels garbed in Richard’s particular emblem sing joyfully in celebration of their meeting. There is no question that Mary is in a separate realm, even though it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where she is at this moment. While Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was finding comfort in the flowers that were growing beneath her feet, “a key was purposely placed under a stone.” It was handed to Queen Elizabeth I in 1601 and got its name from Wilton House, which was the residence of the Earls of Pembroke, who possessed the painting for approximately 200 years before giving it to the queen.

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