1 of 44 portraits of Thomas Cranmer
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
by Gerlach Flicke
oil on panel, 1545
38 3/4 in. x 30 in. (984 mm x 762 mm)
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Key findings: Original dating confirmed. Infrared reflectography shows lettering marking the colour of the cushion as red in German ('rot'). There are pentimenti to the hands and book ribbons reflecting late changes to their position.
Transferred from the British Museum in 1879. Presented by John Mitchell, of Bayfield Hall, Norfolk to the British Museum in 1776. Nothing can be traced concerning the history of the painting prior to 1776.
Gerlach Flicke was a native of Osnabruck and the only other certain works by him are a signed Unknown Nobleman of 1547 (National Gallery of Scotland), the diptych containing a self-portrait and a portrait of Henry Strangwish of 1554 (NPG 6353) and a portrait of Mary I after Anthonis Mor (Durham Cathedral Library). He was working in England between 1545 and 1558, and NPG 535 remains the earliest known portrait by him. Circumstantial evidence indicates that it was painted with the involvement of Thomas Cranmer, probably as a direct commission. The various changes to the composition noted below indicate that this is the prime version.
Cranmer is seated in his study and the letter on the table is addressed 'Too the most Reverend fathere in gode and my singulare goode Lorde my Lorde tharchbusshope off Canturbury huys grace be thes'. The inscriptions on the various books are difficult to read, and were apparently no more legible in 1831 (Strong, 1969, p.54).
Notes on likely authorship
The authenticity of the signature at the top left 'Gerlachus flicus/ Germanus/ faciebat' is not in doubt.
Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
The colour values have changed over time, in particular the curtain to the right has faded considerably and was once a rich deep purple. The cushion has also become a duller red. There are paint losses down the panel joins.
The picture is painted with meticulous attention to detail including the depiction of stubble on Cranmer's chin, the crows' feet around his eyes (see micro 03), tufted threads of the carpet and inlaid detail of the chair (see micro 17). The painting is orderly and well planned except in the area around the hands and books upon the table where there have been changes made during the painting process. The paint surface in the flesh is made up of an initial thickly painted layer followed by very thinly painted areas of highlight and shadow. There is extensive use of azurite in the sky, carpet and in parts of the flesh tones.
Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. Analysis of the wooden panel by dendrochronology (see image in raking light), revealed the wood derives from a tree which cannot have been felled before 1534, leaving a maximum period of 12 years before being put to use.
Drawing and transfer technique
A limited amount of underdrawing is visible to the naked eye particularly in the sleeves and hands (see IRR mosaic 01). The word 'rot' (German for red) is written beneath the painted layers on the red cushion at the lower right. Using infrared reflectography a small amount of underdrawing is evident probably drawn with a brush and fluid medium. This appears in the nose, the hair, and hands, folds of the sleeves and cuffs, and shoulders. Except for delineation of the left hand the drawing appears faint but closer examination revealed lines of varying thickness and tone. There is a certain amount of confusion in the placement of the hands, open book and the books upon the table, which appear to reflect changes to the composition at both the drawing and painting stages.
A small number of changes to the final composition made by the artist are evident from x-ray and infrared analysis as follows:
- the position of the hands and the book has been slightly altered at an early stage
- a ring at the end of the book ribbon has been painted out with flesh paint on the hand on the right side
- the eyes have been adjusted upwards very slightly
- the hand on the right side has been slightly adjusted at the hands and cuff
- the sleeve on the left side has been adjusted to the right
- the line between the hat and forehead has been adjusted to a higher position.
- the shoulder on the right side has been adjusted upwards
- there is a minor alteration to the chin line
- the lettering on the edges of the prayer book has been moved.
Relevance to other known versions
This is the earliest portrait type of Cranmer. There are a number of related portraits using the same pattern at:
- Lambeth Palace
- Jesus College Cambridge
- Trinity College, Cambridge
- Helmingham Hall
Exhibition illustrative of Early English Portraiture, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1909, p.81 (No.26)
Cooper, Tarnya,A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2008, p.43
Hearn, Karen, (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England, 1530-1630, Tate Gallery, 1995, pp.48-9
Hervey, Mary F.S., 'Notes on a Tudor Painter: Gerlach Flicke -I', Burlington Magazine, vol.17, 1910, pp. 68, 71-3, 75-6, 79
Ingamells, John, The English Episcopal Portrait 1559-1835: A Catalogue, 1981, pp.9-10
Morice, Ralph, 'Anecdotes and Character of Archibishop Cranmer', in John Gough Nichols (ed.), Narratives of the Days of the Reformation, 1859, pp.234-72
Strong, Roy, The English Icon: Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture, 1969, p.78 (No.14)
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.54-56
Strong, Roy, The Elizabethan Image: Painting in England 1540- 1620, Tate Gallery, 1969-70, p.13, (No.8)
Todd, Henry, The Life of Archbishop Cranmer, 1831, I, pp.xiii-xiv
Tudor Exhibition, Manchester, 1897, p.25, (No.73)
The paint surface is in good condition. The panel joins have old repairs at the back, and filling and well-matched restoration on the paint surface. There is some restored wear in the window bars and leading. The varnish is clear, even and semi-glossy.
The repaired joins are filled and retouched. The wear in the window bars and leading has been retouched, and there are other scattered areas of retouching. All are well executed and well-matched.
An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.
Number of boards: 3
Last date of tree ring: 1526
The three boards are approximately 20 mm thick at their thickest point and were labelled A to C from the left for analysis (from the front). No sapwood was present at the outermost edges of any of the boards, so a terminus post quem date can be applied to the panel. All three panels contained sufficient rings for analysis. The outer boards (A and C) were derived from a single tree. The last ring identified (found in board C) dated to 1526. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggested the tree used for the boards A and C cannot have been felled before 1534, whilst the separate tree used for board B cannot have been felled before 1530.
The back of the panel has not been thinned or cradled, and retains particularly interesting tool marks. Examination of the back of the boards in raking light showed that board B has sawing marks running almost horizontally across it. Boards A and C were of quite uneven thickness and retain a combination of split or riven surface, and some relatively wide bladed side axe or adze chop marks.
A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.
Observations taken from an old x-ray
Damages and restoration are clearly evident. The vertical wood grain and wooden buttons (with horizontal wood grain) can be seen, as can broad underlying cross-hatched brushstrokes.
A change can be seen down the arm on the left (see Surface examination and Infrared reflectography). A dense area looks as it may have been a book ribbon which was moved and painted over, over the hand on the left (see x-ray mosaic 01).
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
There is possibly some underdrawing in the face, at the edge of the nose and in the hair. No underdrawing can be seen in the lips. In the fingers of the hand on the right, changes in the position of the book ribbon can be seen in normal light (see Surface examination). In infrared reflectography this appears to be drawn in a wet medium with a brush. A change in the edge of the finger of the hand on the left also appears to be drawn in a wet medium with a brush. In the hand on the right there is a painted-out ring shape visible at the bottom of the ribbon - probably a ring or clasp for the book - which might have been drawn using the same method (see DIR 01).
Zig-zag lines are visible with infrared reflectography under the paint in the fur below the book, although it is not clear what these relate to. Drawing is visible in the folds in both the sleeves. The drawn outline of the shoulder on the right and upper arm, and down the centre of the forearm does not follow the painted outline. A change in the paint in the outline of the sleeve on the left can be seen (see Surface examination and X-ray). There may be some drawing at the edge of the sleeve of the forearm on the left.
Changes in the paint in the cuffs and finger tips of the proper left hand can be seen. There is no apparent underdrawing in the architectural detail, or it might be a medium which is not absorbent in infrared reflectography. The word 'rot' (red in German) under the red of the cushion appears to be written in a wet medium, with a brush.
Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.
Analysis undertaken by Libby Sheldon in 2007.
The techniques of this painting are very sophisticated, with some complex mixtures of paint. For example, in the paint of the chair's arm, blue, yellow and earth pigments are mixed to create a warm brown. Questions which arose included: how were the different greens of the carpet achieved and what was the original colour of the curtain to the upper right? These were answered in the analysis below.
Chalk ground and lead white priming.
The painting of the green carpet is varied. Sample 2 clearly shows all the lower layers of the painting showing a chalk ground, followed by a layer of lead white on top, followed by a line of a translucent substance containing particles of carbon black. This is likely to be underdrawing, executed in a wet medium - ink or paint. The darker green appears to be a very thick layer of good quality azurite, with a little lead-tin yellow nearby, but this yellow does not seem to be mixed in to the blue. It is not clear if this dark colour was originally a blue patterning. The red of the carpet was built up over the underlying mixed green, with a dense layer of vermilion followed by a thick glaze of pure red lake. A touch of vermilion at the surface shows the artist making further adjustments to the patterning. (See samples 1-4)
The surface of the curtain, although a rather dull, brownish colour at present, was created with a principal mixture of red lake and blue smalt. There are some additions of black, but originally the curtain would have had a purple hue. Smalt is often subject to degradation and loss of colour, and red lake can fade, so this combination has probably led to the rather dull present appearance. There is also clear evidence of the fading of red lake on the lower right-hand corner of this painting, where a strip of bright red has been protected by the frame rebate.
The grey of the window frame, instead of being a mixture of black and white over the white layer, as might be expected, is composed of a series of layers of complex mixtures (sample 7).
Analysis undertaken by Aviva Burnstock in 1995
As in Libby Sheldon's report, results showed a chalk ground. Burnstock's report suggests that there are modulations of light and dark in the priming.
Green carpet: mixed green (containing azurite, lead-tin yellow, green earth, red ochre and lead white) over the priming.
Purple curtain: purple (with azurite, red lake and lead white) was painted over a grey underlayer. Charcoal and earth pigment medium-rich glaze over purple. Layers of overpaint and varnish were identified over the discoloured original paint on the curtain. These were removed during cleaning in 1995.
Brown chair back: light orange (lead white and red earth) over a darker underlayer of similar composition but with charcoal and less lead white, applied over the priming.
Brown fur collar: dark brown medium-rich glaze over earth pigment underpaint.
Black tunic: dark layer (charcoal, finely ground blue/black pigment, red earth and some lead white) over pale yellow underpaint (lead white and possibly yellow lake), over priming, which here contained some azurite.
Brown-black window leading: worn brown over two layers of overpaint containing Prussian blue, all over a worn layer containing charcoal, lead white and earth pigments - which was probably the original window feature - which was itself over the original sky layer of azurite and white.
An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.
Painting style and method
The face is painted with fine attention to detail. The first layers were relatively thickly applied, and these were followed by very thinly painted layers of shadow, then areas of highlight. Very fine brush strokes in white were applied over the flesh and overlapping onto the drapery to depict stubble on the chin (see micro 10). There are very fine brushstrokes - in the eyebrows, for example - which seem to be painted wet-in-wet (see micro 01). A single red lake brushstroke defines the shadow line between the lips. The shadow around the nostrils is defined with semi-transparent, medium-rich dark brown paint, smoothly and confidently applied. This has a network of fine drying cracks within it. A similar brown appears to have been used to define the line of the upper eyelids. The shadows were carefully applied in subtle layers with fine brushstrokes. Highlights in the eyes and eyebrows appear to have been applied last, over the mid-tone and shadow.
The hair is painted with very fine brushstrokes and there may be some underdrawing. Underdrawing is visible in the white sleeves and several other places in normal light, as well as with infrared reflectography (see micro 08). The word 'rot' is written in a liquid carbon medium under the paint surface of the red cushion (see micro 18) and is now visible because the paint has become more transparent and the deep red glaze over the opaque red layer has faded (see micro 21). The degree of fading can be compared with the lower edge of the paint surface where it has been protected from light by the frame rebate and has not faded. Some of the other pigments have also altered with time: the curtain is no longer a deep purple colour because the tone of the smalt and red lake pigments used in it has changed (see Paint sampling).
There is a wide use of azurite, particularly in the carpet (see Paint sampling) and the sky. The white in the broken window panes is mixed with azurite, making it much brighter than the surrounding sky (see micro 05). Azurite is also present in the highlight at the base of the fingernails (see micro 12). The deepest shadows appear to be the same medium-rich brown paint throughout. In the carpet, this brown paint (with the same drying cracks as noted around the nostrils, above) is flicked over the edges of the other colours to provide a woven texture (see micro 14). The defining shadows in the book were applied wet-in-wet to the brown beneath, with the same paint, but thinly diluted (see micro 16).
Paint layer structure
The warm priming layer is used in the sleeve as a mid-tone, and also under the shadows in the paper. The reflected light from the priming gives the sleeves a luminous three-dimensional appearance. In the sleeves and the book the shadows were put in first and then the white was applied as a highlight over the shadows.
Order of construction
- White chalk ground.
- Lead white priming layer, possibly containing some other pigments (see Paint sampling).
- Underdrawing in a liquid medium (possibly ink with carbon).
- Opaque paint layers. Changes in the hat, hands, and the line of the sleeve on the left seem to have been made at this stage.
- Fine shadows.
- Highlights. The detail in the chair, the architectural decoration and the carpet were applied towards the end of the painting process. Very fine details such as the cracks in the architectural decoration were applied last. Small changes in the outline of the sleeve on the left were made at the end of the process (see micro 11).
Azurite, smalt, carbon black, lead white, earth pigments, yellow ochre, lead-tin yellow, green earth, red lake, vermilion
Changes in composition/pentimenti
The position of the eyes has been raised a little, and there is a minor alteration in the chin line. A change in the hat line, raising the forehead and the top of the hat, can be seen in the paint surface.
It can be seen from the paint surface that the positions of the hand on the right and the book ribbons were changed. Infrared reflectography confirmed this, and indicated that the book ribbons were drawn further to the right than their painted position (see Infrared reflectography). Surface examination and infrared reflectography also showed a ring shape - now painted over with the flesh paint of the hand on the right - at the end of the book ribbon.
The outline of the sleeves was changed at the painting stage, and is evident in surface examination. Infrared reflectography confirmed that the outline of the sleeve on the left was initially painted further left than its present position (see Infrared reflectography). Underdrawn lines show that the outline of the shoulder on the right was initially planned to be lower than the present painted position. Small final changes to the outline were made at the end of the painting process. A change in the position of the lettering on the edges of the pages of the prayer book can be seen on the paint surface, and was confirmed with infra-red reflectography.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
Restoration is evident down the panel joins and scattered restoration has been carried out in the dark areas (particularly in the dark drapery). There are small isolated losses throughout, which have been restored. Remnants of an old varnish layer can be seen beneath the upper varnish in the vertical element of the architecture on the left-hand side (see UV 01).
See this portrait
On display in Room 1 at the National Portrait Gallery