Six years after the remains of Richard III were found beneath a car park in Leicester, and three-and-a-half after the Archbishop of Canterbury presided over his reinterment in the nearby cathedral, a new portrait seeks to further adjust his standing.
In particular, the work by the Danish artist Anne Gyrite Schütte, produced from a forensic reconstruction of the King’s exhumed skull, might set Shakespeare straight about the ’”poisonous bunch-backed toad” of whom he wrote, a limping hunchback with a withered arm.
In reality, Richard lurched more towards the modern archetype of a “surfer dude” than a hideous misfit, a historian said.
Steve Beer, who previously worked in Westminster Abbey and the Royal Museums at Greenwich, and who now owns a gallery in the West Country dedicated to medieval art, commissioned the portrait for an event next month which he says will “radically overturn” the conventional view of the monarch who reigned for two years from 1483 and is usually portrayed as a scheming, murderous villain.
“Richard III has been demonised by generations of historians, artists and playwrights as the sinister, physically misshapen figure who murdered his nephews,” he said.
“He was portrayed by Laurence Olivier in his film adaptation of the Shakespeare play, as an almost pantomime villain.
“But since the discovery of his physical remains, historians and scientists have been able to refute at least a part of the legend inherited from Shakespeare and the Tudors.”
Mr Beer, whose Medieval Gallery in Dunster, Somerset, will host the artwork’s unveiling and a series of talks by other historians, added: “This is about a group of experts getting together and trying to reform Richard’s image. They are all committed and they are all empirical in their evidence.
“Rarely has this critical period of English history been so vividly brought to life .”
Comparing the former King to a handsome “surfer dude”, he said the event would “examine Richard’s role as Lord Protector and consider if his image as a murderer is really justified”.
Richard had bestowed the title upon himself, after wrestling power from his nephew in 1483. It allowed him to run the government.
He also set in train other plans to usurp the crown. The 12-year-old Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, were imprisoned in the Tower of London where they spent the rest of their days. But he still had to fight for the crown, and in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth near Leicester, he was defeated by the future Henry VII.
Mr Beer is not the first to allude to Richard’s handsomeness. The 2013 reconstruction of his skull – based on computer-generated layers of muscle and skin, rather than portraits dating from after his death – prompted Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society, one of the driving forces behind the search his body, to say: “It doesn’t look like the face of a tyrant. He’s very handsome.”