John Gilbert. Detail of Cardinal Wolsey, Chancellor of England, on His Progress to Westminster Hall, 1886-7.

Watercolor, 36 x 60 inches. Guildhall Gallery, London.

In this painting first exhibited at the Royal Watercolour Society in 1887, Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor of England, makes his way to Westminster; he is followed by his attendants who bear the symbols of his office and preceding him is another attendant who carries his Cardinal's hat (just visible on the right in this detail of the picture). Petitioners try to catch his attention and hand him notes pleading their causes, but his imperious disdain for them is obvious; he holds to his nose a pomander of orange and spices to fend off their odors.

But the wheel will come full turn. The Cardinal's haughtiness in this scene is mocked and the irony of his pomp and glory is sharply etched by the quotation from Act III, Scene ii, of Henry VIII that accompanied the picture when it was first exhibited; when Wolsey realizes that the King's anger marks the end of his illustrious rise from commoner to the highest office in the land, he laments:

I have touched the highest point of all my greatness,
And from that full meridian of my glory
I haste now to my setting. I shall fall
Like a bright exhalation in the evening,
And no man shall see me more.