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Henry Hugh Armstead RA, Study for an illustration to Tennyson's poem 'Godiva'
Henry Hugh Armstead RA, Study for an illustration to Tennyson's poem 'Godiva'

Study for an illustration to Tennyson's poem 'Godiva'

Henry Hugh Armstead RA (1828 - 1905)

RA Collection: Art

This is one of Armstead's preparatory drawings for an illustration to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem Godiva(published 1842). There are two further drawings for the same illustration in the Royal Academy Collection (04/3651 and 04/2572).

Here, Godiva is depicted as apprehensive and dejected, her girlish face peering out from under her long hair. This is in keeping with the orginal medieval story which stresses Godiva's self-sacrifice in agreeing to ride naked through the streets of Coventry to prevent her husband, Leofric, from raising high taxes from the town's inhabitants. The demeanour of Lady Godiva and the slightly spiky drawing style suggest the influence of Pre-Raphaelitism.

The specific link to Tennyson's version of the Godiva story is is clear from the finished drawing (04/3651) which includes leering gargoyles on the Romanesque arch and is close to the description of 'fanastic gables' in the penultimate 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

Study for an illustration to Tennyson's poem 'Godiva'
Object type
Pen and ink on cream wove paper

128 mm x 167 mm

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