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oil painting
Goodiva (Lady Godiva)
Noort, Adam van (1562-1641)
1586
oil on canvas
VA.1950.16
Herbert Art Gallery and Museum
This painting was commissioned by Coventry City Council in 1586. It is the oldest known painting of Lady Godiva. A figure can be seen looking out of an upstairs window. This is the origin of the Peeping Tom character in the Godiva story. This painting was purchased for 3/6d, presumably commissioned, by Coventry in 1586. The record is is in the 'Book of Yearly Accounts', Coventry Record Office A7 p.142: 'paynting the picture of Goodiva in S. Mary Hall'. Noort was one of Rubens' teachers and, in the present work, Noort anticipates Rubens' depictions of pleading heavenward glances of naked women. A similar strange drawing of the female form to our Godiva appears in Noort's 'The Five Senses', see the engraving by Adriaen Collaet after Noort. The horse would seem to be based on an engraving by Hendrik Goltzius. Golzius also engraved a half-length female nude (Susanna), which shares the gaze up to heaven. If old engravings (eg in Dugdale's 'Antiquities of Warwickshire', 1656) are to be believed, the gold-coloured (?=gilded) Coventry Cross in this painting is an accurate account of the real Coventry Cross, perhaps suggesting that the artist painted this work whilst in, or after a visit to, Coventry. In 1587, Noort entered the guild of St. Luke in Antwerp as a master, which may indicate that the previous year he was indeed a 'journeyman'. The other buildings are completely unlike Coventry's architecture. They are, though, similar to the fanciful architecture in the early work of Adam van Noort, as well as engravings in the perspective treatise, 1580, of Vredeman de Vries (1527-1604/23). The figure leaning from a window to the right is Earl Leofric, Godiva's husband, but was it later understood to be Peeping Tom. This painting may well be 'the picture of a naked woman without superstition' which was hung by local Puritans on Coventry Cross, according to a sermon by Francis Holyoak, made at a visitation by Dr. Hinton, in Trinity Church, printed at Oxford in 1613. This may have occurred in 1609 according to a lost document in Birmingham Reference Library. This would explain why in 1719 Humphrey Wanley described it as 'an old decaied Picture of the ridiculous legend of the Lady Godiva's riding Naked through this City which is here represented as having more churches than we see now'. It would also explain why it was deemed necessary to make a copy of it in 1681. Funerary hatchments (also oil paintings) were also hung up outdoors, but a painting like this would not have been executed with outdoor display in mind. When conserved, the painting was not restored, except for a mark on the leg.
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