Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Edward VI (1537-1553) 

Circle of Guillim Scrots (fl.1537-1553)

Portrait of Edward VI (1537-1553), Circle of Guillim Scrots
Oil on Panel
16th Century
15 1/2 x 12 5/8 inches, 39.3 x 32.1 cm
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This portrait of Edward VI was almost certainly painted during his reign. Dendrochonological analysis of the panel on which the portrait is painted has shown that the oak used was felled in the first half of the sixteenth century. Furthermore, the emphatic “ER”, for Edwardus Rex, suggests that the picture was intended as a portrayal of the current monarch, rather than as part of a later sixteenth century set of ‘corridor’ portraits.

The likeness is derived from Guillim Scrots’ 1551 full-length portrait of Edward, which was the last portrait for which the king sat. Versions are in the Royal Collection and the Louvre, the latter having been sent to the court of Henry II. Scrots had been court painter to the Regent of the Netherlands, Mary of Hungary, and was recruited by Henry VIII as Holbein's successor at the close of 1545. His work, covering less than 10 years in this country, has never been satisfactorily reconstructed. One certain work that can be associated with him from this period is the distorted perspective portrait of Edward dated 1546 (National Portrait Gallery, London). This bore the signature ''Guilhelmus pingebat'' as late as 1713.

Like all of the Tudor monarchs, Edward appears to have taken a close interest in the dissemination of his image. We also know that he was interested in portraiture in general, thanks to his personal use of Holbein’s book of portrait drawings when he was a child. However, there was inevitably an important political dimension to Edward’s portraiture, for royal portraiture in the hands of the Tudors was overwhelmingly dynastic and political in purpose.

The portraiture of Edward VI is the one of the most varied of all Tudor monarchs. It is certainly the most extensive of any Tudor child, perhaps even of any royal child. It has often been assumed that the bulk of Edward’s portraits stem from his historical portrayal as a Protestant icon, especially after the religious revolution following the reign of his sister Mary. But contemporary Tudor royal portraits, such as this example, were not historical records. They were commissioned as current likenesses, either in an attempt to project the royal face, or as symbols of loyalty, and only an up to date portrait was therefore acceptable. Recent research has shown that some royal portraits were entirely over-painted in an attempt to maintain an up to date likeness of the monarch; the Anglesey Abbey portrait of Henry VIII as a young man is in fact painted over an earlier portrait of Henry as a child.

The same was true especially in Edward’s case. For not only was he the heir to the throne and the raison d’etre of years of political upheaval, but he was a child whose appearance changed every year. As a result, the demand for new portraits was great, and today we have a complete visual record of what Edward looked like as he grew up. The present portrait would no doubt have had a ‘shelf life’ of only a few years, had Edward lived, and would have been superseded by later, less adolescent-looking images as he matured.

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