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Death of Richard, The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp

Death of Richard, The Pageants of Richard Beauchamp

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1485

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Julius E IV

Item number: f.26v

Length: 27.7

Width: 20.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript

Thought to have been made for Anne, Countess of Warwick and daughter of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick (1382-1439), this is the only illustrated biography of a secular figure to have survived from the late middle ages. Richard Beauchamp was a true high-flyer, but his daughter married Richard Neville ('The Kingmaker'), who opposed Edward IV and so caused the exclusion of Anne from all her possessions after his death. It is believed that, to help recover the family's reputation and property, Anne had the 'Pageants' written, probably from an account kept by the family and possibly under the supervision of John Rous (Beauchamp's chantry priest at the Collegiate Church of St Mary's, Warwick), and the extraordinary illustrations made by a Continental artist (known as the Caxton Master) to enhance further the glorifying message.

The Caxton Master marshalled his dramatic skills and ability to create realistic figures for his depiction of Beauchamp's death. Wasted from illness, the dying man receives the last rites from a bishop, while the household is convulsed with sorrow. The lines of the figure at the foot of the bed and the bedcoverings lead the eye to the crucifix held in the centre of the picture and then to the Earl's face, signalling his religious devotion. The artist's ingeniousness comes to the fore also in the way the bed transforms into an exterior tower of the palace in which the scene takes place, further reminding the viewer of the grand status and dignity of the subject.

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