Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King Henry VIII (1491 - 1547) 1500s later

 English School 

Portrait of King Henry VIII (1491 - 1547),  English School
Oil on oak panel
16th Century
22 x 17 inches 57.8 x 44.4. cm
The Collection of John and Margaret Ernst, New York City.
To view portraits of Henry VIII currently for sale, please visit the Tudor and Stuart page at www.philipmould.com.

This portrait of the King is one of the most impressive and imposing later sixteenth century derivations from the King''s portrait in the famous Whitehall Palace mural, executed by Hans Holbein the younger in 1536. The painting is now lost as it was destroyed in the Whitehall Palace fire of 1698. A copy of 1667 by Remigius van Leemput records the composition, and the surviving portion of Holbein''s cartoon, showing Henry VIII and his father Henry VII, gives an excellent sense of the overbearing scale and magnificence of a painting that was said to leave those who saw it in the King''s Privy Chamber ''abashed and annihilated.''1

The strength of this image, the sheer sense of majesty and physical power guaranteed its suitability for reproduction, both during the King''s reign and then, as a mark of loyalty and continuity, in the successive reigns of his children, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. The full-face treatment of the King that survives in these portraits is a record of a lost alteration made by Holbein between the planning and the execution of his Whitehall portrait. Both the cartoon (National Portrait Gallery) and the only autograph easel portrait of the king by Holbein (Thyssen collection) preserve the three-quarter profile that was Holbein''s original conception. This portrait. Like Leemput's copy of the entire mural, shows that Holbein changed his initial intention, and brought the King''s face fully to the front. The high quality of this particular example can immediately be seen in the treatment of the King's costume. Not only is the intricate gold embroidery of his shirt treated with particular care, but - rarity in such portraits - the fur has been painted with a noticeable realism, and the individual tails of the mink are separately depicted.

The pigment tone and characterisation date this example to the later sixteenth century, the period of greatest interest in so-called ''corridor portraits''. The long galleries of the nobility and gentry were hung with a profusion of panel portraits. These collections evolved from smaller sets in the early part of the century, that would depict, perhaps, just the owner's family and the present sovereign. By the date of the present portrait - in line with the Tudor pseudo-antiquarian fascination with dynastic and heraldic matters - these sets might span as far as possible the entire succession of the English crown, putative and actual family connections, foreign monarchs, political allies and great men of the past.

1. Simon Thurley The Royal Palaces of Tudor England Yale 1993 p.209
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