John Mcewen com­ments on The Wil­ton Dip­tych

Country Life Every Week - - My Week -

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

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