Chaucer at the Court of Edward III by Ford Madox Brown


 FordMadox Brown Painter (England 16 Apr 1821 – 06 Oct 1893)

Chaucer at the Court of Edward III by Ford Madox Brown, Start Date: 1847, Completion Date: 1851, Oil on Canvas, Art Gallery of New South Wales, The Domain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 

<--- According to Arthur Hughes, 
“I shall always remember my first sight of him some forty years ago, in a vast studio he had, behind a house on the right-hand side of Newman Street, a part of which Gabriel Rossetti was using. It was to see Rossetti that I was taken by my friend, Alec Munro, the sculptor, and greatly impressed I was by the mysterious studio all darkened by the great canvas Brown was at work upon of Chaucer at the court of Edward III. (Gabriel Rossetti being the model for Chaucer), and which afterwards seemed to fill almost the whole side of the middle room of the Royal Academy in Trafalgar Square, and which, to complete in time, Brown worked upon continuously the last three days and nights. However, I was not allowed to see its face on this occasion, but, from its depths, Brown emerged with the impressive and rather severe face he seemed habitually to wear in those days, and which gave place to so entirely different a one in later years.” 

Alec (Alexander) Munro (sculptor) and wife, 7th October 1863 
by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
 
William Michael Rossetti by Julia Margaret Cameron, albumen print, 19 July 1865, NPG

According to Gabriel Rossetti’s brother, William Michael Rossetti, “however strenuous were Madox Brown’s efforts to finish the Chaucer, it was only by working night and day for some days before ‘sending-in day’ that he was able to accomplish his task in time for the R.A. exhibition.  The complication of the subject was great. It is explained by Madox Brown: 


Chaucer is supposed to be reading these pathetic lines from the ‘Legend of Constance’:

Hire litel child lay weping on hire arm

And kneling pituosly to him she said

Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee no harm.

With that hire coverchief of hire hed she braid

And over his litel eyen she it laid,

And in hire arme she lulleth it ful fast,

And unto the heven hire eyen up she cast.



Edward III is now old, Philippa being dead; the Black Prince is supposed to be in his last illness.  John of Gaunt, who was Chaucer’s patron, is represented in full armor, to indicate that active measures now devolve upon him.  Pages holding his shield, &c., wait for him, his horse, likewise, in the yard beneath.  Edward the Black Prince, now in his fortieth year, emaciated b sickness, leans on the lap of his wife Joanna, surnamed the Fair Maid of Kent.  There had been much opposition to their union, but the Prince ultimately had his own way.

To the right of the old king is Alice Perrers, a cause of scandal to the Court, such as, repeating itself at intervals in history with remarkable similarity from David downwards, seems to argue that the untimely death of a hero may not be altogether so deplorable an event.

Seated beneath are various personages suited to the time and place. A troubadour from the South of France, half-jealous, half in awestruck admiration; a cardinal priest on good terms with the ladies, a jester forgetting his part in rapt attention to the poet. This character, I regret to say, is less medaeval than Shakespearian. Two dilettante courtiers (are) learnedly criticizing, the one in the hood is meant for Gower. Lastly, a youthful squire of the kind described by Chaucer as never sleeping at night, ‘more than doth the nightingale,’ so much is he always in love.

Sitting on the ground being common in these days, rushes used to be strewn to prevent the gentlemen from spoiling their fine clothes.

This picture is the first in which I endeavoured to carry out the notion, long before conceived, of treating the light and shade absolutely as it exists at any one moment instead of approximately or in generalized style. Sunlight, not too bright, such as is pleasant to sit in out-of-doors, is here depicted. The figures in the spandrils of the arch symbolize the overthrow through Chaucer of the Saxon bard and the Norman troubadour. (Excerpted from the catalogue of the Piccadilly Exhibition, 1865, Ford Madox Brown’s own words at the time).



It may be interesting to mention that, besides that of Rossetti, the work contained portraits of several of the painter’s circle:  the page was Walter Deverell, the ‘beloved’ young P.R.B.; the troubadour, W.M. Rossetti; and the jester, John Marshall, the surgeon.





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