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Wilton Diptych

Anonimo inglese o francese, dittico wilton, 1395-99 ca. 01

Wilton Diptych

The Wilton Diptych is a small portable diptych of two hinged panels, painted on both sides. It is a rare religious panel painting from late Medieval England.

It was painted for King Richard II of England, who is depicted kneeling before the Virgin and Child in what is known as a donor portrait.

He is presented by his patron saint, John the Baptist, and by the English royal saints Edward the Confessor and Edmund the Martyr.

The painting is in tempera, a painting process in which the paint was ground to powder and mixed with egg yolk then painted in thin glazes.

The background and many details are inlaid with gold leaf. In some parts, the panel has been molded beneath the gilding to add dimensionality.

In the right panel with the Virgin and Christ Child, the garments are mainly blue, with the paint pigment coming from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli.

The brilliant blue is symbolizing the divine nature of the right panel. The roses in the angels’ hair would formerly have been a deeper pink, but some of the colors have faded. The flowery garden symbolizes the gardens of Paradise.

The composition of the two pictures is very different. The scene of Richard and his patrons is dignified but static, whereas the view of the Virgin and Child is full of movement created by the angel’s gestures and wings. 

The left panel has the figures standing on a hard rock surface.

When closed, the diptych reveals on one side a White Hart, Richard’s emblem with a golden coronet around its throat and a golden chain, sitting on a grassy meadow with branches of Queen Anne’s rosemary.

On the other side of the closed diptych is a coat of arms associated with King Edward, the Confessor, together with the coats-of-arms of the Kings of England.

Wilton diptych2

The outer sides of the diptych

The artist has never been identified, and the closest resemblances to his style come from illuminated manuscripts from the 1410s.

At this period, it was common in Northern Europe for panel paintings to be made by artists with a background in manuscript illumination.

This masterpiece was created at a time when the International Gothic style was at its most similar across the courts in Europe, making a definitive identification of the nationality of its painter challenging.


Tempera is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium made of colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium such as egg yolk. Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium.

Richard II of England

Richard II (1367 – 1400) was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard’s father Edward died in 1376, leaving Richard as heir apparent to his grandfather.

Upon the death of his grandfather, the 10-year-old Richard succeeded to the throne.

During Richard’s first years as king, the government was in the hands of a series of regency councils, influenced by Richard’s uncles.

England then faced various problems, most notably the Hundred Years’ War. A major challenge of the reign was the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, and the young king played a central part in the successful suppression of this crisis.

Less warlike than either his father or grandfather, he sought to bring an end to the Hundred Years’ War. A firm believer in the royal prerogative, Richard restrained the power of the aristocracy and relied on a private retinue for military protection instead.

In contrast to his grandfather, Richard cultivated a refined atmosphere at court, in which the king was an elevated figure, with art and culture at its center.

The king’s dependence on a small number of courtiers caused discontent among the influential, and in 1387 control of government was taken over by a group of aristocrats known as the Lords Appellant.

Richard eventually regained control and took his revenge on the Appellants, many of whom were executed or exiled. Historians have described the next two years as Richard’s “tyranny.”

In 1399, after John of Gaunt, Richard’s uncle died, the king disinherited Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, who had previously been exiled. Henry invaded England in June 1399 with a small force that quickly grew in numbers.

Meeting little resistance, he deposed Richard and had himself crowned king. Richard is thought to have been starved to death in captivity, although questions remain regarding his final fate.

Richard’s reputation has been shaped to no small extent by William Shakespeare, whose play Richard II portrayed Richard’s misrule and his deposition as responsible for the 15th-century Wars of the Roses. 

Wilton Diptych

  • Title:             Wilton Diptych
  • Artist:           Unknown Master, English or French (second half of 14th century)
  • Created:       1395
  • Medium:      Tempera on oak panel
  • Dimensions: 53 x 37 cm
  • Museum:      The National Gallery, London

Power and Judgment | Saint John the Baptist: From Birth to Beheading

Richard II by William Shakespeare

The Life and Death of King Richard the Second, commonly called Richard II, is a history play by William Shakespeare written in about 1595.

It is based on the life of King Richard II of England and is the first part of a tetralogy. It is followed by three plays concerning Richard’s successors: Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V.

Although the First Folio (1623) edition of Shakespeare’s works lists the play as a history play, the earlier Quarto edition of 1597 calls it The tragedy of King Richard the second.

A Tour of the National Gallery

13th Century Paintings

14th Century Paintings

15th Century Paintings

16th Century Paintings

National Gallery – Wilton Diptych – London – Audio Guide

17th Century Paintings

18th Century Paintings

The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare’s Richard II

19th Century Paintings

The Tragedy of Richard II by William Shakespeare

20th Century Paintings

‘The Wilton Diptych’ | Soundscapes

Explore The National Gallery


“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”
― William Shakespeare, Richard II


Photo Credit 1) [CC BY 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons 2)  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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