Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher 1600c.

 English School 

Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher,  English School
Oil on oak panel
17th Century
17 1/4 x 22 1/4 inches 43.8 x 56.5 cm
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This double portrait of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) and Bishop John Fisher (1459-1535) is an icon of the two most famous martyrs of Henry VIII's Reformation. The panel is datable to the the first quarter of the seventeenth century, upon stylistic grounds and upon its dimensions, being of a size that was commonly used for panel portraiture at that time. Without question it would have been executed for a Recusant patron, for whom the image of the two Catholic opponents to the Act of Supremacy would have been a solace and an inspiration. It is an intriguing historical document, therefore, of a period when persecution of Catholics was at his height, and when a painting such as this would have been an extremely compromising possession.

More and Fisher corresponded secretly in prison, an act leading to the removal of Thomas More's books and papers, and met their execution in the same year, 1535. They have survived forever paired in the popular consciousness, were canonised together in 1935, and share the same Saint''s Day, June 22nd. This panel shows that they have been associated in this fashion for a considerable period of time. Nor is the panel the only evidence of this, as a double portrait of More and Fisher in a private collection is of similar size and date, although differing somewhat in the characterisation of the Bishop. In our example the portrait of More is based on the famous drawing of More by Hans Holbein of c.1527-8 in the Royal Collection and, in the inclusion of the Lord Chancellor''s chain, the widely disseminated Holbein panel portrait of the same year, the autograph version of which is in the Frick Collection, New York. The portrait of Fisher derives from contemporary likenesses of the Bishop, coloured by early seventeenth century notions of the proper appearance of an ecclesiastical martyr.
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