Oil Paintings

Several interesting oil paintings hang within Westminster Abbey or form part of its decoration. Others are kept in official residences within the precincts. Most have been presented to the Abbey but the portrait of Richard II has always been hung in the Church.

Photographs of all the paintings can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Bicci di Lorenzo triptych

This was formerly displayed above the tomb of Anne of Cleves near the High Altar of the Abbey. It is a 15th century altarpiece on wood by Florentine artist Bicci di Lorenzo (1375-1452) and was bequeathed to the Abbey by Viscount Lee of Fareham (died 1947) who had acquired it from the sale of Lord Crawford's pictures. Lord Crawford had bought it in 1872 from the heirs of Francesco Lombardi. It is thought originally to have come from the Capella San Giovanni Gualberto in Sta Trinita, Florence. It shows the Madonna enthroned, holding a rose, with the Christ Child, with angels kneeling at her feet. Either side are depicted figures of saints Anthony Abbot, Giovanni Gualberto, John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria. In roundels above are saints Peter and Paul. In small vertical panels at either side are small figures of saints Matthew, Nicholas, Francis, Luke, James the Less and Peter Martyr.

Dimensions 83 x 115 inches. This has now been conserved and will be on display in the new Jubilee Galleries, due to open mid 2018.

Canaletto: procession of Knights of the Bath

In the Deanery at Westminster Abbey hangs an oil painting on canvas by Italian artist Canaletto, about 1749, showing the procession of Knights of the Order of the Bath leaving the Abbey after an installation service in their chapel. This was bequeathed to the Abbey in 1792 by the son of Dean Joseph Wilcocks, who is shown in the painting, as Dean of this order of knighthood. It also shows the newly completed western towers of the Abbey. Dimensions 100 x 100 cm.
Painting not available for public viewing (colour photos of this item are not in the public domain as stated on some websites but are Dean and Chapter of Westminster copyright).

Deans of Westminster

Oil paintings of many of the Deans from the 1600s onwards are in the Deanery or the precincts but are not available for public viewing. A list can be obtained from the Abbey Library.

Elizabeth I

This oil painting on panel is dated 1595 and was given to the Abbey by Dean Joseph Wilcocks, according to the inscription on the back. The face of the elderly queen was painted over to make her look younger, probably in 1760. The inscription shows it was painted in the 37th year of her reign and contains a chronogram (although this makes the date 1597). She holds a glove in her left hand and a fan in her right.
Painting not available for public viewing but photos of the recently cleaned painting can be purchased.

Elizabeth II

A large portrait of The Queen in her State dress and robe standing on the Cosmati pavement in the Abbey, by Australian artist Ralph Heimans, was purchased in 2013 and given to the Abbey by a generous donor). A postcard is available from the Abbey shop. When the new Jubilee Galleries open at the Abbey in mid 2018 it will be on public view there.

Henry IV

A 15th century portrait on wood was presented to the Abbey in 1906 and hangs in a room within the Deanery. Not available for public viewing.

Icons

Two icons, of egg tempera and gold on wood, by the Russian artist Sergei Federov were installed in the nave, above the votive candle stands, in 1994. They are in the Byzantine style and depict Christ and the Virgin with the Christ Child.[For images see the Worship section of our website]

Quire c.1700

An oil painting of the Quire, with the classical High Altar, shows the 13th century stalls before their destruction. It also shows the organ in its position in the north quire aisle. Presented in 1931 by the Revd. P.Waddington. This has been cleaned and will be on display in the new Jubilee Galleries.

Richard II

This is the earliest contemporary painted portrait of an English king. It is painted on six oak panels. The artist was possibly Andre Beauneveau or Gilbert Prince and dates from about 1395. It shows the young king enthroned, holding an orb and sceptre. Richard died in 1400 and his tomb is in the Abbey. Much restoration and removal of overpainting was done by George Richmond in 1866 and most of the gesso background was removed at this time. The present frame was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 19th century. It has been displayed in several locations in the Abbey but now hangs on a pillar near the west door. Dimensions: 213 x 110 cms.

Sedilia

The ancient sedilia (seats for the priests during Mass) to the south of the Abbey's High Altar were erected in the reign of Edward I, when Walter de Wenlok was Abbot of Westminster (died 1307). The oak panels are richly decorated but several figures were deliberately planed off in 1644. On the north, or altar side, are two full length figures of kings, thought to be Henry III and Edward I. The figures between them, possibly St Peter and another figure, have been obliterated. The bearded king holds a sceptre and has his right gloved hand raised as in blessing. The figure thought to be Edward I is clean shaven wearing a red robe and green cloak. He wears white decorated gloves and holds a sceptre. The background of this image is powdered with small gold lions.

The canopy above has a red and gold decoration with three small corbel heads of an abbot and two kings. On the south side of the sedilia is a figure of Edward the Confessor with a grey beard. It is assumed he was handing his ring to a figure of a pilgrim (St John the Evangelist in disguise) which has been erased. The lower sections of Annunciation figures (the Angel Gabriel and the Blessed Virgin Mary) remain in two other panels. Gabriel holds a scroll with some  words which are still readable "Ave Maria Gracia Plena Dominus Tu...". The artist was possibly Thomas of Westminster, the King's painter, son of Walter of Durham. The paintings have been most recently conserved in 1974 and 2008.

Vivarini's Virgin and Child.

Bartolomeo Vivarini's oil on wood painting of the Virgin and Child, Venetian School about 1480, hangs on the altar in the Abbey's Lady Chapel. It was presented by Lord Lee of Fareham in 1935 for the new altar there. Vivarini died about 1499 and all that is known of the history of the painting is that it was purchased in Bath in 1894 and later acquired by Lord Lee.

Westminster Abbey. Designs for a proposed central tower.

A painting signed by Pietro Fabris (once thought to be by William James) shows the Abbey and surroundings with a proposed central tower and a design for the completion of the western towers with spires. Dated between 1734 and 1740. The central tower was never built but Nicholas Hawksmoor's designs for the towers (without spires) went ahead. Presented by Lord Wakefield of Hythe in 1932.
A second painting from a different angle, probably by the same artist and of the same date, also shows these proposed designs, and includes St Margaret's church Westminster. This was presented by the NACF in 1973. Both paintings were formerly in the Abbey Museum but are now in private rooms in the precincts. Both will be on display in the new Jubilee Galleries.

Further reading:

"Canaletto in England" by Charles Beddington, 2006

"The portrait of Richard II in Westminster Abbey" by Jonathan Alexander in The Regal Image of Richard II...edited by Dillian Gordon and others, 1997

"The original technique of the Westminster Abbey portrait of Richard II" by J.Nadolny & A.Roy  in Medieval Painting in Northern Europe..., 2006

"The materials and techniques of the c.1307 Westminster Abbey Sedilia" by Lucy Wrapson in Medieval Painting in Northern Europe, 2006. (Also a thesis by the same author).

A 2008 conservation report on the Sedilia is available for consultation at Westminster Abbey Library.

Click on the images to enlarge

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