Paul Delaroche: Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower (Les enfants d’Edouard)
March’s ‘Treasure of the Month’ complements a major exhibition currently on show at the National Gallery – Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey (until 23 May 2010). This painting (catalogue number P276) is a reduced replica of a much larger picture now owned by the Louvre (but currently on display in the National Gallery’s exhibition) which Delaroche exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1831.
The young Edward V succeeded to the throne on the death of his father, Edward IV, on 9 April 1483. However, Edward IV’s marriage was declared illegitimate by Parliament, and on 6 July his brother, the Duke of Gloucester (who became Richard III) was crowned king. The fate of Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, who were placed in the Tower of London by Gloucester, is unknown, but it is often assumed that they were murdered on their uncle’s orders. Delaroche’s source was presumably Shakespeare’s Richard III, though in the play the murder of the brothers is related by James Tyrrel, Richard III’s henchman, rather than shown on stage.
Delaroche, whose political views were conservative, painted many scenes from English history, in part because by this means he could refer obliquely to subjects which had a political relevance in France. Here, French viewers could hardly fail to think of the similarly mysterious death of the young Louis XVII in the Temple during the French Revolution. On occasions he also, like many other French painters, made reference to some of the classic techniques and structures of European painting, in this case evoking the subject of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary (compare Philippe de Champaigne’s Annunciation in the Great Gallery). Here the bed, the prie-dieu (a praying- or kneeling-desk) and the illuminated prayer book which the brothers have been reading are unmistakable references to the Annunciation, made all the more evident in the case of the prayer book by the illumination on the left-hand page which can just be recognized as representing the Annunciation. By this means the religious significance of the murder of the royal princes (rulers sanctified by God) is emphasized, though Delaroche hints at the mystery of their deaths by omitting the murderers and showing only an ominous shadow at the foot of the door.
Delaroche drew a copy of the bed with its pendant medallion in The Annunciation in the Louvre by the 15th-century Netherlandish artist Rogier van der Weyden. This no doubt prompted the inclusion of the two medallions which hang in front of the headboard behind the princes in Delaroche’s painting. In fact, Delaroche did not use Rogier’s painting only for antiquarian research: the precision with which Les enfants d’Edouard, a 15th-century subject, is painted is characteristic of Netherlandish painting of the same period.
Delaroche: Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower, Monday, 1 and Monday, 29 March, Stephen Duffy
Also at the National Gallery, Friday, 7 May: ‘Delaroche in the Wallace Collection’ by Stephen Duffy (please contact the National Gallery for further details)
- Stephen Duffy, Paul Delaroche 1797-1856. Paintings in the Wallace Collection, London, The Wallace Collection, 2010.
© Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2010. Text by Stephen Duffy