On the Side of the Angels 1


An occassional dip into the early medieval paintings in the National Gallery, London, prompted by a four-hour longeur at a conference and proximity to beauty – and my inability to resist putting words into the mouths of painted faces, and motives into painted attitudes.
Wilton Diptych 1390’s anonymous.
richard IIKing Richard II kneels on the left, gazing towards the Virgin, his hands raised but slightly apart as though waiting to catch something.

On the right, Heaven looks crowded, the sky golden and figured, more like a great gate than the firmament, pressing up against the regiments of cobalt clad angels.

The back row are there under protest, even though they all wear the white hart brooch as Richard does.  Their arms are crossed or interlinked, as they tug at each other.
Come away, they say, he’s not dead yet, and he’s not at all good, so why would we be interested in his prayers?
The kneeling,shrugging angel rose-bedecked angel, who perhaps should be interceding with the virgin, raises a hand indicating lost causes, it will shrug in a moment.
Lady, it says, there’s nothing here for you.
On the far side of the virgin, an angel points derisively, and its companion sniggers.
You aren’t going to listen to him are you?

It seems that despite the heavenly chorus, the virgin will listen.
To Richard’s benefit, he has on his team Edward the confessor and St Edmund, both English kings, like himself, and both venerated as saints – and the Baptist.

Is Richard implying that all it takes is for the Baptist (his patron saint) to give the word, and this callow youth will also be sainted? There is something of hubris here.
The only angel notionally fighting Richard’s corner carries a St George pennant, but can only bring itself to point him out to the Christ child with a furtive finger, embarrassed at the scorn of its fellows.
welcoming childThe child stands out against the heavenly blue in his golden blanket, his feet press against his mother upper arm and hand, and leaning vigorous and gurgling towards Richard, he crooks a welcoming hand.
Come on in, he says, you get used to the laughter, and it’s a great deal better than weeping – your choice, obviously.
The angels sneer discreetly and waft off, no doubt to ensure good seats at the latest harp concert.

Go and see the real thing at the National Gallery, make up your own story…

© Cherry Potts 2013