King Edward VI
1 portrait on display in Room 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
King Edward VI
by William Scrots
oil on panel, anamorphosis, 1546
16 3/4 in. x 63 in. (425 mm x 1600 mm)
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Key findings: Original dating confirmed. The technical findings have shown that several changes were made to the composition in the painting process. The first three to four letters of the inscription around the head were originally gilded, and then painted out with white paint. Two separate artists are responsible for the figure and the landscape background.
This painting was purchased in 1877. It was originally in the Royal Collection at Whitehall. It bears the mark of Charles I, suggesting it was certainly owned by the Royal family by the time of his reign. It may have been in the Royal Collection since its creation, although it is not identifiable in the 1547 inventory. In 1649 it was sold for £2. It is recorded by numerous foreign visitors as on display at Whitehall Palace, the earliest known reference being from 1574 (Strong, 1969, p.89-90).
This portrait of Edward was painted when he was nine, a year before he became king. He is shown in distorted perspective (anamorphosis), a technique designed to display the virtuosity of the painter and amaze the spectator. When viewed from the viewing hole to the right it is seen in correct perspective.
Notes on likely authorship
We know that Edward was drawn from the life by the King's Painters Hans Holbein and William Scrots. Scrots was recorded as the King's Painter at a very high salary from 1546 to 1553. Edward sat for William Scrots for a portrait to be produced in 1546. This sitting is the likely source for all subsequent variants produced of Edward as king after the Scrots type. The pattern used to create the anamorphosis is believed to be based on the profile portrait painted by Scrots. A version of this is also in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 442).
When George Vertue saw the portrait in 1713 he referred to an inscription with Scrots' name: 'Aeta 9. 1546. painted on a long board. for a Sylinder. This I suppose...writ on the frame Guilhelmus pingebat'. X-ray has revealed the same inscription on the lower edge of the frame. The inscription suggests strongly that the artist was William Scrots, however, more research on the oeuvre of William Scrots is needed.
Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
The brown background of the oval in which Edward's head is seen was certainly once painted blue with a red lake outline around the lettering. The discolouration and fading of the pigments, particularly smalt and red lake, has resulted in a mottled brown/grey colour.
The artist originally planned for the lettering around the head to be gilded, although this idea was soon abandoned as only the first four letters were gilded. The microscope shows traces of gold beneath the white paint of the first four letters on the left.
The landscape background is painted by a different artist, probably a Netherlandish specialist in landscape. The handling of the paint in the landscape is significantly different from that within the oval. Throughout the landscape, the paint has been handled more freely than within the oval, using smaller, finer brushstrokes and fluidly blended paint. In contrast, the paint within the oval was worked up carefully with thin translucent paint in a broad flat manner, using wide brushstrokes. It has been previously suggested that the landscape may not be contemporary with the green marble-effect painting inside the oval in which Edward VI's portrait appears. This has been disproved by the current analysis and the background can be confirmed as an original part of this painting.
Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. The wooden panel could not be dated by conventional dendrochronology because it is fixed in an engaged frame.
Drawing and transfer technique
With infrared reflectography black underdrawing can be seen, in strong black lines, through the paint surface. No underdrawing is visible in infrared reflectography beneath the landscape.
Bold, dark underdrawing defines the facial features and although the paint has become more translucent with time, it is likely that the underdrawing was always intended to be visible to some extent.
A small number of changes to the final composition made by the artist are evident from x-ray and infrared reflectography. The key areas of changes to the composition are as follows:
- changes in the position of the numbers for the date
- the curve of the neckline on the collar of the red tunic
- the line of the hanging jewel
- the curves on the front of the hat
- the tip of the nose was drawn longer than finally painted
- the upper edge of the black robe was painted a little lower than it was drawn.
- the gilding and repainting of the first four letters of the inscription 'AETA'.
Relevance to other known versions
There are no other known anamorphic versions of this portrait. However, the National Portrait Gallery has a similar profile of Edward VI (NPG 442) by William Scrots, of which there are many versions.
Strong, Roy, The English Icon: Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture, 1969, p.70 (No.5)
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.88-94
Strong, Roy, The Elizabethan Image: Painting in England 1540- 1620, Tate Gallery, 1969-70, p.19, (No.23)
Compare Images (what's this?)
Compare high-resolution images against the painting - mainly x-ray and infra-red photography images, but sometimes UV or raking light images - side by side with the ability to zoom in on details.
The panel and frame are in reasonable condition. The crack at the top left of the panel has needed some consolidation but appears to be stable at present. The paint surface has suffered some abrasion in most areas. This has exposed small areas of the ground and priming layers in many parts. The smalt pigment in the background to the lettering has discoloured from blue to brown and there is considerable restoration, in brown, over this. The paint surface has a fine overall craquelure. A considerable amount of brown restoration is present above the degraded background paint inside the oval. Further restoration can be seen in areas within the background landscape, particularly in the lower right-hand corner.
Number of boards: 1
Panel Orientation: Horizontal
Panel condition observations
The board has some interesting tool marks on the rear surface, perhaps made by a 'shave' tool with a nick in the blade. There is a royal collection stamp on the reverse with the mark 'CRI' (Charles I). There is a crack at the top left of the panel which has required some consolidation, which indicates that there is some stress caused by the panel being set in the engaged frame.
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: 1
Last date of tree ring: n/a
The presence of the frame prevents access to the end grain, therefore it was not possible to undertake dendrochronological analysis.
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.
The horizontal wood grain and engaged frame structure are clearly evident. The mitred corners and vertical cross-members of the frame are secured with wooden dowels. Modern nails and screws are also present and areas of damage are evident (see x-ray mosaic 01).
To the left of centre, along the lower edge of the frame (on the front), 'guilhelmus pingebat', is inscribed in very small freehand letters (see x-ray detail 01). This is followed by a small painted flourish. This inscription is present at the upper edge of the lower frame member, beneath the small rabbits painted in the landscape. The inscription is not evident on the surface of the painted frame, as it has been covered by overpaint. The inscription has not been observed using any other methods of examination, but given the density of the pigment seen in x-ray, the inscription is likely to have been painted in lead-tin yellow or lead white. The presence of this inscription confirms observations made by George Vertue in 1713, where he noted the following: 'Aeta 9. 1546. painted on a long board. for a Sylinder. This I suppose...writ on the frame Guilhelmus pingebat'. The expressive brushwork in the landscape, outside the oval, is clearly evident in x-ray. This stands in contrast to the broad, flat brushwork seen within the oval.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Black underdrawing can be seen, in strong black lines, through the paint surface. No underdrawing is visible under the landscape. Infrared reflectography shows the changes in the position of the numbers for the date, although this is difficult to interpret and is not clear in the x-ray. Infrared reflectography also shows the gold under the white paint of the first four letters on the left: 'AETA'. This is not evident in the x-ray.
Infrared reflectography shows changes from the drawing to the painting stage in some details: the curve of the neckline on the collar of the red tunic, the line of the hanging jewel and the curves on the front of the hat are at variance; the tip of the nose was drawn longer than finally painted and the upper edge of the black robe was painted a little lower than it was drawn (see IRR mosaic 01).
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.
Paint samples were taken to analyse the pigments and layer structure of the painting in 2008.
Ground and paint layers
A chalk ground lies over the wood panel and a pale priming layer can be seen in cross-sections. This differs in appearance and thickness but seems to be made almost entirely with white lead. Tiny traces of red lead in some samples would have given the priming a slightly warmer tone.
The strong red lake on the chest of the young king's costume is well preserved where it was laid on thickly. An intense bright yellow was used for the gold chain on the costume. It is a well coloured ochre with a fine particle size. It has been mixed with a little red lead to give a more intense yellow and the appearance of gold.
The greens of the inner and outer parts of the painting are composed in different ways. The marbled green background behind the head is composed with verdigris, while the landscape is painted with mixtures of azurite and lead-tin yellow. The light area (sample 2) to the left of the head (below the 'E') shows a pale grey underlayer over the priming, with a quite thick layer of translucent copper green glaze over it, with a lighter mixture of verdigris and lead white for the highlight over the translucent green layer. The green landscape (Sample 4) is built up from dark to light, first with an oil rich mixture of azurite with black and some traces of white, then a mid-tone layer with azurite blue and white, then a lighter layer with a higher proportion of white and possibly some lead-tin yellow.
The brown background to the lettering
This was identified as discoloured smalt, originally blue, mixed with white lead. Crimson lake found in some of the samples was eventually identified as part of the red lake outline to the white lettering, and not an intended part of the smalt and white mixture. After analysis of several paint samples the suggestion that the background might once have been pale purple was discarded.
A sample was taken to see whether smalt was used in the grey under the letters which were initially gilded and then painted white. A thick layer of closely packed smalt particles could be seen (sample 17) with no white lead in the mixture as elsewhere in the background of the circle (see sample 12). On top of the smalt a mordant of predominantly ochre and lead white could be seen underneath the traces of gold leaf.
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 handling of the paint in the landscape is significantly different from that within the oval. The paint in the landscape was applied relatively thinly with loose, rapid brushwork, with some passages of light impasto. In contrast, the paint within the oval was worked up carefully with thin translucent paint in a broad flat manner, using reasonably wide brushstrokes. Bold, dark underdrawing defines the facial features and although the paint has become more translucent with time, it seems that the underdrawing was always intended to be visible to some extent. This has been observed in a number of other works, including the double portrait of Gerlach Flicke and Henry Strangwish (NPG 6353), and Hans Eworth's portraits of Mary I (NPG 4861), Nicholas Heath (NPG 1388) and Lady Dacre and Gregory Fiennes (NPG 6855).
The panel was prepared with a white chalk ground. A thin white priming layer containing lead white was then laid over the underdrawing.
Paint layer structure
The flesh and hair were applied very thinly (see micro 01 and micro 02).
White feather in hat and shirt collar.
Red/brown tunic: a significant amount of red lake glaze has been used here. Much of the red lake has now faded, particularly where the paint was thinly applied. The gold is painted with a mixture of very bright, fine yellow ochre pigment with tiny particles of red lead (see micro 06).
Black hat and doublet (see micro 06).
The white border
A cream/pale pink layer is present beneath the white border (see micro 11), this was applied at an early stage. This warm underlayer is visible on the surface, where the white paint is abraded. It is not clear whether this was originally intended to be the upper paint layer of the border, or an underlayer for the final white layer. Due to the nature of the craquelure pattern in this work, it is not clear whether the white was originally intended to be applied above the cream/pink or not.
The marbled green background to the head
The green has been applied above a warm, pink/grey underlayer in a series of thin, translucent layers. Here the artist has skilfully manipulated the thickness of the paint, to create a variety of green tones within the marbled passage; from a thin pale green, to a rich deep colour. The composition of the green paint appears to be verdigris with the addition of lead-tin yellow in areas of extreme highlight, both of which have been expertly blended (see micro 14). The white 'E' and 'P' lettering was applied over the green marbled background.
Examination with optical microscopy has revealed that the appearance of the background to the lettering has changed significantly. Much of the surface is heavily restored, with opaque, brown overpaint (see micro 11). The original paint is brown/grey with a mottled appearance, caused by the discoloration of smalt. Paint sample analysis shows that the paint mixture contains smalt and lead white, possibly with more than one layer. The background to the lettering would have been a strong light blue. Distinct blue particles of smalt can be seen with magnification (see micro 13).
It seems that the white lettering was originally outlined with red lake, perhaps to create an illusion of depth and increase the three-dimensional quality of the inscription against the surrounding paint. The paint directly adjacent to the white letters of the inscription has a higher concentration of red lake than the surrounding area (compare micro 11 and micro 13 with micro 12). Some red lake particles appear in the smalt and white background mixture but these seem to be random particles from the red outline of the border and do not indicate that the background was originally intended to be light purple.
There were evidently some changes in the planning of the letters. Examination with optical microscopy has shown that the first four letters of the inscription 'A E T A' (in front of the sitter's chest) were originally gilded (also visible with infrared reflectography). Above the now brown background paint, a grey/blue layer can be seen with gold leaf laid above (see micro 07). Paint sample analysis (Sample 17) showed a thick layer of closely packed smalt particles with no white as elsewhere in the underlayers. It was not possible to determine whether the smalt and white which is found elsewhere lies underneath this intense blue grey build up. On top of the smalt is mordant (containing mostly ochre and lead white). At an early stage, the gold leaf was then overpainted with the lead white used for the remaining letters. A considerable amount of restoration can be seen above the lettering (see micro 07 and micro 08). There is no gold present beneath the top bar of the 'E' or under the right part of the cross bar of the 'T'. Gold leaf was not found beneath any of the other letters in the inscription, indicating that this was probably an abandoned early decision. Instead, the now brown background appears to have been applied first, followed by a blue underlayer (composed of smalt and lead white - see micro 09). This blue underlayer is compositionally very different from the mordant seen beneath the gilded letters previously discussed, and is clearly visible on the surface where the upper white paint has been abraded. The white lettering was then applied above the blue underlayer and the outline of the inscription appears to have been reinforced with red lake (see above).
There has evidently been some difficulty with the forms of the lettering in the oval, particularly on the right behind the sitter's head. Two small areas of blue can be seen surrounding parts of the inscription. The first surrounds the number '4' in the date on the right-hand side, and the second smaller passage can be seen to the right of the first 'A', at the edge of the brown background and black doublet. Unlike other passages within the oval, this blue is composed of azurite (identified visually) and not smalt. There is no obvious explanation for the presence of these two blue passages, but azurite has been identified as the principal blue pigment in the landscape and it is possible that these are small adjustments or early retouchings made using this pigment. It is possible that at the time of painting, azurite provided an accurate colour match to the blue smalt background which has since discoloured to brown.
There is a pale priming layer over the white ground (see Sample 12). In the past, it has been suggested that the landscape may not be contemporary with the painting inside the oval, yet this can now be disproved. The landscape can be shown to be contemporary with the rest of the picture because the original white border surrounding the oval was painted at the same time as the landscape; in some areas the white border paint flows over the top of the blue/green landscape, and in other passages the landscape paint flows over the white. The stylistic differences between the paint in the background and the paint within the oval indicate that these areas were painted by different hands, possibly members of the same workshop, but with very different painting techniques.
Throughout the landscape, the paint has been handled more freely than within the oval, using smaller, finer brushstrokes and fluidly blended paint. There is some light impasto, particularly in the blue areas, where the paint has been applied in a streaky manner, apparently with a relatively stiff brush (see micro 21). A similar technique has also been observed in the blue background in the smaller Scrots type portrait of Edward VI (NPG 442). Additional surface textures were achieved through the manipulation of the still wet paint with a brush (see micro 15, micro 17, micro 20 and micro 22). In contrast to the area within the oval, the landscape has been painted with more complex pigment mixtures. Whereas copper green glaze and lead-tin yellow were utilised in the formulation of the marbled green within the oval, the greens within the background landscape are composed of a mixture of green (malachite), lead white and lead-tin yellow (see micro 19). In contrast to the use of smalt within the oval, azurite was chosen as the blue pigment in the landscape (see micro 18). (See Paint sampling)
Order of construction
- Ground: single layer of white chalk
- A thin white priming layer containing lead white
- Underdrawing: wet medium applied with a brush (see micro 05)
- Under layers were applied in the area within the oval
- Flesh: applied very thinly (see micro 01 and micro 02)
- Hair: applied very thinly, wet-in-wet to the adjacent flesh paint
- White feather in hat and shirt collar
- Red/brown tunic
- Green 'marbled' background of the figure
- Black hat and doublet (see micro 06)
- White 'E' and 'P' lettering was then applied over the green marbled background
- Further reinforcement in white feather and collar
- The white oval border was painted over the cream/pink underlayer described above (see micro 11)
Smalt (in the background of the inscription), red lake, lead white, red lead, black, malachite, azurite (in the landscape only), verdigris, copper green glaze, lead-tin yellow, yellow ochre
Changes to composition/pentimenti
See discussion of colour change and use of gilding in oval area above.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
Ultra violet shows the extensive restoration over much of the surface, particularly in the oval border, the lower-right corner, the face and the sky.
Frame date: 16th century.
Painted oak, mitred and pegged. Dovetail lapped joint.
When George Vertue observed the portrait in 1713 he referred to an inscription 'Aeta 9. 1546. painted on a long board. for a Sylinder. This I suppose...writ on the frame Guilhelmus pingebat'. This is present, beneath surface overpaint on the lower member of the engaged frame (see X-ray). Paint samples were taken to examine the layers on the lower edge of the outer flat of the frame. It was difficult to distinguish the layers. A slightly lighter layer can be seen, another layer fluoresces as a mottled brownish/cream layer suggesting that it had a resinous or lac content. Another sample shows several layers of dull creamy fluorescence, again suggesting some resinous layers between black or brown paint. The precise layer structure of the frame is as yet unknown.
See this portrait
On display in Room 1 at the National Portrait Gallery