John Mcewen comments on The Wilton Diptych
How exquisite it is; and how gross, by comparison, are all subsequent royal portraits,’ said Kenneth Clark of this portable devotional picture, the finest painting to survive from 14th-century England.
‘The wilton Diptych’—so called because it was sold to the National Gallery in 1929 from the collection of the Earl of Pembroke at wilton—commemorates that England has immemorially been ‘Mary’s Dowry’. The 15th-century Pynson Ballad, like the diptych a miraculous survivor of Henry VIII’S iconoclasm, described England as ‘The holy lande, our Lady’s dowre;/ Thus arte thou named of old antyquyte’.
The distinguished conservator Martin wyld, who oversaw the diptych’s last cleaning when head of the National Gallery’s Conservation Department, says water damage to the heraldic exterior of the panel’s right wing is its only major loss.
The diptych shows Richard rededicating England to Mary as her ‘dos’ (gift, dowry). He is surrounded by angels (see page 138) and supported by the martyred King Edmund, then England’s patron saint; Edward the Confessor, at whose shrine he prayed before successfully confronting wat Tyler’s Peasants Revolt; and John the Baptist, the eve of whose Vigil coincided with his accession to the throne at the age of 10.
The importance of Mary in medieval England cannot be overestimated. Her shrine at walsingham, the result of one of her first apparitions, was unique in Christendom, ranked as a place of pilgrimage with Rome, Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela. Little remained after the Reformation, but, today, it has more pilgrims than at any time since the Middle Ages, with Anglican and Catholic shrines and an Eastern orthodox chapel.
Richard II presented to the Virgin and Child by his Patron Saint John the Baptist and Saints Edward and Edmund (‘The Wilton Diptych’), about 1395, French School, each panel 20in by 14½in, National Gallery, London