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The Legend of

Lady Godiva

ASAG Journal

Arts & History Writers


Lady Godiva

'Lady Godiva' - by John Collier - circa 1898 - Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

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"Lady Godiva" is an 1898 painting by the English artist John Collier, who worked in the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Here we see a portrayal of Lady Godiva during her well-known ride through Coventry, England. Lady Godiva was a late Anglo-Saxon noblewoman and the wife of the Earl of Mercia, named Leofric, who was a patron of various churches and monasteries.
Today, she is remembered for a Legend that dates back to the 13th century, in which she rode naked, covered only in her lengthy hair, through the streets of Coventry. According to the story, she took pity on the tenants of Coventry, who were suffering under her husband’s rule.
Lady Godiva had asked her husband numerous times to reduce the tolls and oppressive taxation on the people of the Coventry. He refused every time, and when he grew tired of her appeals, he said he would grant her request if she would strip naked and ride on a horse through the streets of the town, assuming that she would not undertake such an act. Lady Godiva did just that and proclaimed that all persons should stay indoors and shut their windows as she rode through the town, clothed only in her long hair.
Just one person in the town, a tailor known as Thomas, disobeyed her proclamation. Thus afterward, the term for a voyeur as a "Peeping Tom” originated from later versions of this legend.
Other attempts to find a more plausible rationale for the legend include that Lady Godiva might have gone through town as a penitent in her nightgown, devoid of her noble jewelry and dress garments. Godiva’s story could have passed into folk history to be recorded as a more romanticized version in which she rode stark nude. 
"Lady Godiva"
Artist: John Collier
Year: 1898
Medium: Oil painting on canvas 
Style: Pre-Raphaelite - a group that were a secret society of young artists (and one writer), founded in London in 1848. They were opposed to the Royal Academy's promotion of the mechanistic approach first adopted by Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and the Quattrocento period in Italian art. 
Location: Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, England

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