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Henry Hugh Armstead RA, Compositional study for an illustration to Tennyson's Godiva
Henry Hugh Armstead RA, Compositional study for an illustration to Tennyson's Godiva

Compositional study for an illustration to Tennyson's Godiva

Henry Hugh Armstead RA (1828 - 1905)

RA Collection: Art

A sketch for an illustration to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem Godiva. Armstead depicts the medieval Countess riding under a Romanesque arch with buildings in the background. Armstead has not annotated this drawing to indicate the subject but it relates to two further drawings in the collection (04/2546 and 04/3651) which are clearly identified as depictions of Lady Godiva.

In these drawings, Godiva is portrayed as an apprehensive and very young girl, presumably to emphasize her generosity in agreeing to ride naked through the streets of Coventy in order to save the town's inhabitants from crippling taxes. Lady Godiva was a popular subject in Victorian art but Armstead's version suggests the particular influence of Pre-Raphaelitism. Furthermore, the drawing can be specifically linked to Tennyson's version of the legend as the finished drawing (04/3651) includes leering gargoyles on the Romanesque arch and is close to the description of the 'fanastic gables' in the second last verse of the poem:

Then she rode forth, clothed on with chastity:

The deep air listen'd round her as she rode,

And all the low wind hardly breathed for fear.

The little wide-mouth'd heads upon the spout

Had cunning eyes to see: the barking cur

Made her cheek flame; her palfrey's foot-fall shot

Light horrors thro' her pulses; the blind walls

Were full of chinks and holes; and overhead

Fantastic gables, crowding, stared: but she

Not less thro' all bore up, till, last, she saw

The white-flower'd elder-thicket from the field,

Gleam thro' the Gothic archway in the wall.

Object details

Compositional study for an illustration to Tennyson's Godiva
Object type
Pen and ink with wash over pencil on cream wove paper

135 mm x 64 mm

Royal Academy of Arts
Object number
Given by Dr. Hugh Wells Armstead 1932
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