This painting, though interesting in its own right, has more resonance if you know a bit about English history of the Tudor period. Sir Thomas More, the bearded fellow in the blue fur-lined robes, is saying goodbye to his daughter, Margaret Roper, just to the right of him. The scene obviously takes place at the Tower of London; you can see the Norman-era White Tower in the background, and the armed soldiers standing around make it seem martial and ominous. This scene takes place late on the day of July 1, 1535. More has just been found guilty of treason against King Henry VIII and sentenced to death. Indeed, More would be executed on July 6, on the famous Tower Hill, where Queen Anne Boleyn would meet her own death a little less than a year later.
More’s “crime” was refusing his assent to King Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and his assumption of power as head of the church in England. One of the most honest and respected men in 16th century England, More had briefly been Chancellor, and it was thought that his refusal on the religious and temporal questions of power in England spoke volumes. One of the most stubborn and principled men of the time, More was ultimately canonized as a Catholic saint. His story was the basis of a hit Broadway play in the 1960s, A Man For All Seasons, which was turned into an Academy Award-winning movie in 1966, with Paul Schofield playing More and Robert Shaw as Henry. Margaret Roper, the other subject of the painting, actually kept her father’s head, pickled in a large jar, for the rest of her life. She died in 1544.
A Man For All Seasons is a classic “English Renaissance” film made in 1966. Paul Schofield’s performance yielded him an Oscar for Best Actor.
The artist, William Frederick Yeames, was an English painter actually born in Russia (his father was a diplomat). This picture, painted in 1872, was one of numerous scenes he did with a historical bent, particularly focusing on the Tudor and Stuart periods. Six years after this painting, Yeames created his most famous work, And When Did You Last See Your Father?, which shows a domestic scene taking place during the English Civil War of the 1640s. While these scenes were somewhat realistic, Yeames’s style was heavily suffused with the romantic look of 19th century historical painting.
Yeames died in 1918. I am not sure where the original of this picture is held.