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Richard III’s final hours reimagined in film and ceramics

The final hours of King Richard III of England are re-imagined through animated film and ceramics – incorporating soil from the Bosworth battleground where he died in 1485 – in an exhibition for the Cambridge Festival 2024.

‘Voices of Richard III’ is a collaboration between Trinity Fellow Dr Jitka Štollová and Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts Lecturers, Tiina Burton and Charlotte Percival. The project is supported by Cambridge Creative Encounters and will be on display in the West Hub until 27 March.

Richard III (1452 – 1485) was the last Plantagenet king of England whose defeat at the Battle of Bosworth Field ended the civil conflict known as the Wars of the Roses and ushered in the Tudor dynasty.

King Richard III, by Unknown artist, oil on panel, 1597-1618, NPG 4980(12) © National Portrait Gallery, London

One of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, Richard III is portrayed in the eponymous play as a cunning villain. In 2012-13, a campaign by his descendants and an archaeological dig by the University of Leicester confirmed the remains found at Greyfriars in Leicester were that of King Richard III.

Dr Štollová, who researches Tudor and Stuart interpretations of medieval English history, offers new perspectives on the reception of Richard III in the period after Shakespeare’s influential characterization.

‘I examine the afterlives of the Ricardian mythology which, quite separate from the historical man himself, transformed him into a symbol of political anxieties about royal power and government in early modern England,’ she said.

Dr Jitka Štollová

The film in the Voices of Richard project features an animated crown, a white rose and a skull, which respond to the voices of visitors reading early modern texts about Richard III’s final hours.

‘These poems capture the sense of anguish and foreboding which the authors imagined Richard experienced before his death,’ says Dr Štollová.

‘It’s eerily impactful to see the poetry reflected in the animation: the crown swells towards the audiences, the rose turns solidly red or ghostly pale, and the skull fractures/dissolves into shards and spikes,’ she said.

3D model by RoxyJungle. Photo: Tiina Burton

Ms Burton said: ‘The software is a node-based visual programming language for real-time interactive multimedia content. This means I can make 3D models audio-reactive in real time, giving feedback to the person speaking and heightening the emotional content of the texts. The output will be a video recording of the sessions.’

Dr Štollová said:

‘Thanks to this approach, the project enables a unique, embodied experience that brings largely unknown seventeenth-century texts to twenty-first century audiences: it crosses the boundaries between the printed and performed word, and between emotions and physicality, both able-bodies and Richard’s notoriously dis-abled one.’

Meanwhile the Ms Percival’s ceramics, which offer an abstract rendering of the remains of soldiers as well as their armour, invoke the devastation left after a battle.

Ceramic. Photo: Charlotte Percival

Dr Percival said: ‘Incorporating Bosworth soil samples as material ingredients throughout, these objects are tangible essences of a man who has existed as both a living being in the past and a fragmented memory in the future.

Like the ‘voices’ and symbolic legacy of King Richard III, they appear as ceremonial fossils, unearthed and fractured. They are cold, fragile, trampled and battle worn. Ambiguous, visceral, strange. Each is a tactile piece of evidence or specimen of both a crowned and empowered yet fragmented and anguished persona.’

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