This painting was inspired by a description of a banquet in 'Mémoires sur l'ancienne chevalerie…' (first published in 1759), by French historian Jean-Baptiste de La Curne de Sainte-Palaye. When exhibited at the Royal Academy, it was accompanied by the following quote from Sainte-Palaye:
‘Between the courses of the repast, two damsels entered the hall, advancing to the sound of solemn minstrelsy, and bearing the peacock roasted in its feathers, on a golden dish, to each knight in succession, who made his vow, and sanctioned his resolution by appealing to God, and the Virgin Mary, the ladies and the peacock. The dish was then placed on the table, and the lord of the festival deputed some renowned knight to carve it in such a manner that each might partake.’
Sir Walter Scott later explained the significance of serving peacock at medieval banquets in the notes to his poem 'The Lay of the Last Minstrel' (1805): ‘When introduced on days of grand festival, it was the signal for venturous knights to take upon them vows to do some deed of chivalry before the Peacock and the Ladies.’
Daniel Maclise was the son of a Highland soldier from Cork and studied at Cork School of Art. In 1825 he sketched Sir Walter Scott and the resulting lithograph led to commissions for portrait sketches. He entered the Royal Academy schools in 1828 and showed particular interest in mythological and historical subjects. He later designed illustrations for Dickens's Christmas books and contributed to ‘Fraser's Magazine’. In 1858, he commenced ‘The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher’ at Westminster Palace; begun in fresco but completed using water-glass painting. Its companion, ‘The Death of Nelson’, was finished in 1864. A member of the Royal Academy, Maclise became reclusive in later life. He died of pneumonia in 1870.
Sold through Sotheby’s Belgravia, London, on 29 June 1976 (Lot 61), as ‘Vows of Chivalry’; from which sale purchased by Colnaghi, London, for £2,970; from whom purchased by the Department of the Environment on 5 March 1977
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