the Wilton Diptych
The Wilton Diptych has come up a few times recently, on tv and yesterday as I was reading Alan Bennett's Untold Stories. It is a fairly mysterious small pair of paintings, just 12 x 11" each, hinged, a personal altarpiece for Richard II, painted near the end of his reign. He was born in 1367 and became king at ten in 1377, deposed in 1399 and died at 33 in 1400 of starvation, the imprisoned last of the Plantagenets.
Not sure why it keeps popping up in public view all of a sudden unless it is part of a general reclamation of the past that underpins European's problems with multiculturalism. 'They want to change our culture', or our way of life, or our laws, or whatever it is. I'm sure the British don't mean the culture of binge drinking and football hooliganism, no, it is glorious culture, safely lodged in places such as the National Gallery. Genius, the series on British scientists introduced by Stephen Hawking, Downton Abbey, the bloody History of Scotland — Britain is intent on reminding itself, on television, just what it was that made it Great.
The diptych is a lovely thing. On the left panel, the boy king kneels, flanked by his patron saints Edward the Confessor and Edmund the Martyr, both once kings of England, and John the Baptist carrying the lamb of God. Richard kneels on stoney ground, not unlike Sudbury.
On the right panel is a phalanx of angels, all wearing Richard's emblem, a white hart lying on the ground. They, and Mary, stand on a carpet of flowers, their blue robes are Marian blue, the blue of heaven. Their crowns are English roses, their powerful wings a fractal of feathers on a wing.
Richard's earthly life is being sanctioned by something on a completely different scale. This is the power of faith, earthly life may be hell, but there's an end to it, and a field of flowers will be achieved. This encourages endurance; a lack of faith perhaps encourages impatience with an unsatisfactory life in the here and now.
Our touching faith in technology as a solution to the energy crisis is cast as a kind of achievable heaven, but on such a different scale that there will be many generations whose lives are sacrificed while we plan for a future none of us will see.