This portrait of Richard III was recorded both by George Vertue and Horace Walpole when it was in the possession of the Sheldon family at Weston Park in Warwickshire. Vertue visited Weston in 1737 and recorded in his notebook:
'in the Great Room, all round almost, at the top. pictures of the Kings of England, beginning wth. K.Hen 5. H.6. Ed.4 R.3. H.7. his Qu. P.Arthur with a white flower. H.8. K. Franc, of franc Ed.6 Qu.Scot K.Hen of Franc. Card. Wolsey. Cromwell. Sr. T.More. & ... old Ld Cardigan.'
Walpole visited Weston in 1738 and noted in the Handsome great dining-room: Kings of England from Henry 5th to Edward 6th both inclusive. 2
The portraits were probably commissioned by Ralph Sheldon (1537-1613) of Weston in Warwickshire, a tapestry manufacturer and patron of the arts. He made and married several fortunes and acquired Weston Park. He was painted in 1590 by Hieronimo Custodis (fl. 1589-92), as were his two sons, William and Edward. 3
This group of portraits of early English Kings and other historical figures are of consistent size and format, being arch-topped and showing the figure at half-length. Each portrait is executed in oil on baltic oak panels measuring some 33 x 22 inches and bears an inscription with the identity of the sitter. The size of the group is significantly larger than the average late Elizabethan corridor portrait set and whilst not being the earliest image of Richard, it is certainly the largest recorded Elizabethan long gallery image of the king. The images are invariably derived from earlier prototypes and typically adapted and enlarged to suit the scale of the set. The fact that the set ceased with a portrait of Edward VI (1537-53) implies a dating after the mid-sixteenth century. This has been confirmed by the scientific evidence of a dendrochronology report carried out on the panel. 4 The tree-rings of the three oak panels terminated at dates of 1572, 15.70, and 1571. With the addition of the expected number of sapwood rings, this would mean the felling of the trees occurred after 1579. Allowing for the average delay in the manufacture and transportation of the panel, the period c.''1580-c. 1610 has been suggested as its use date; archaic stylistic traits such as the flat tapestry background and the arch-top format would suggest a date of execution at the earlier end of this band.
The Sheldon portrait of Richard III is based on a presumed portrait from the life of which only copies from various dates exist. 5 The earliest known version of the type is in the Royal Collection (Windsor Castle), which may date from as early as the late fifteenth-century and was the prototype for later images. 6
Other portraits from this Sheldon group that have survived include Cardinal Wolsey (National Portrait Gallery, NPG 32), Prince Arthur (formerly with the Earl of Jersey at Middleton Park, Oxon), Henry VIII (Christie''s, 8 May 1908, Lot.38) and Edward VI (private collection). The group certainly passed into the possession of Ralph Sheldon (1623-84), the antiquarian and author at Weston Park, where they remained until sold by Messrs Christie & Ansell in 1781 on the death of William Sheldon. The portrait of Richard III appears to have been acquired by George, 3rd Marquess of Conyngham (1825-82) possibly as part of the remodelling of Slane Castle and was later sold at Christie''s in 1908 by his wife's executors.