This is the first ever painting of the Lady Godiva legend. It was commissioned by the City of Coventry in 1586 and executed by Flemish painter Adam van Noort, a refugee at the time. It follows the Richard Grafton version of the legend, the town is empty and the covering hair has been omitted. During festivals it was displayed outside at the Coventry Cross, so after less than a hundred years it was in such a bad shape that the city ordered a copy to be made, which now hangs in St Mary’s Guildhall. The original, restored in 1976, is found in The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.

In the top right window, a bearded face is discernible. Most likely supposed to be Leofric, the curators of The Herbert think that it caused the character of Peeping Tom to be woven into the legend. This character is first traceable fifty years and fully fleshed out a hundred years after the painting was made.

There is another interesting detail about this painting: It seems to be the only evidence that Adam van Noort visited England, yes, that he ever left Antwerp at all. None of the (extremely short) biographies that you can find on the web mention this fact at all.

This is what I could figure out: Adam van Noort was born 1561 into a Catholic family. His father, Lambert van Noort, created two of the 28 stained glass windows in the Sint-Janskerk in Gouda. But Adam had a brief fling with Protestantism, he was registered as Lutheran in the civic guards list of 1585. At the time, Antwerp was under siege by the Duke of Parma. The city surrendered on August 17, and the Protestant citizens were given two years to settle their affairs before leaving. We can only guess from here on. Adam may not have had many affairs to settle, so he may just have jumped onto the next boat.

His flight did not take long. Still in 1586, we see him back in Antwerp, a Catholic again, marrying Elisabeth Nuyts in the Cathedral of Our Lady. The next year, he became a master in the Guild of Saint Luke.

Though he was the teacher of Rubens and Jacob Jordaens, nobody seems to care about Adam van Noort. On 25 March 2009, the Saint Cecily you see on the right, from the year of his death (1641) and probably his last painting, was auctioned by the renowned Galerie Koller in Geneva. It fetched only the low end of the estimate, a mere five thousand Swiss Francs.

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