King Edward VI
1 portrait on display in Room 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
King Edward VI
by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, circa 1547
61 1/4 in. x 32 in. (1556 mm x 813 mm)
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New Date: c.1546-7
New attribution: Unknown English School
Key findings: Original dating confirmed. Technical analysis has shown the dating of this picture is likely to be soon after the accession of Edward VI. Two significant changes were made during the painting process (the addition of a pillar with a coat of arms over a planned arched window and the change to Edward VI's right foot).
Purchased in 1982. The portrait was reportedly given by Edward VI to Peter Osbourne (1521-1592) of Chiswick Priory, Bedfordshire: he was keeper of the Privy Purse and Treasurers Remembrancer to Edward, and Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs to Queen Elizabeth I. The painting then hung in the family home, until the house was sold in 1936 and the painting passed to Mr Richard H.D. Osbourne, Moor Park, Surrey.
Despite the fact that Edward VI lived for only 16 years and reigned for just 6 years, a surprising number of portraits of him both as Prince of Wales and as king exist. The multiple images reflect his importance as Henry VIII's only male heir. During Edward's lifetime the ownership and display of his portrait also became important as a way of showing allegiance to the new Protestant faith.
This portrait appears to have been painted in the first year of his reign and shows Edward in a pose similar to that of Henry VIII in the Holbein Cartoon. The composition of this painting is broadly based on the portrait of Edward as prince (Royal Collection, Windsor), perhaps by William Scrots. This portrait is one of four types that came into circulation at about the time Edward was prince. Edward was drawn from the life by William Scrots in 1546. The attribution of the Royal Collection portrait to Scrots is based on a payment dated March 1551/1552 to Scrots for 'three great tables' two of which were of Edward from royal accounts (Strong, 1969, p. 93). This type (sometimes in half-length format) became one of the most popular ways to represent Edward in the Elizabethan and Jacobean period.
Notes on likely authorship
The handling indicates a native English painter, and some broad similarities to the work of Master John (such as the pale blue priming) indicate a possible relationship, or the influence of that studio. Although this picture has been damaged and restored it seems possible to identify at least three different artists working on different parts of the picture. In busy workshops it was quite common for artists to become specialists at depicting certain parts of a picture. The costume, face and the pillar with the coat of arms all seem to be painted in a slightly different way
Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
The surface has suffered abrasion and much of the gilding has been lost. There are considerable losses in several areas. A pale blue priming layer appears to lie over the ground in most of the surface but might have been applied selectively in the area of the face. The painting has a complex layer structure with extensive use of silver and gold in areas. The use of gold and silver leaf probably reflects the materials in the actual fabric worn by Edward.
In the red costume, silver leaf has been laid in two layers, perhaps reflecting a fault with the first layer. The second layer was added at a late stage. A paint sample taken from the cloth canopy shows that in some areas there was a translucent copper green glaze which has deteriorated to a dull brown. The azurite used for the blue/green cushion and tassels has become greener with time, and has darkened with changes in the oil medium. The tassels have suffered considerable abrasion and have been restored to some extent. The carpet is painted with blended brushstrokes for the tufted surface. The handling is tighter and neater than in the carpet in the portrait of Catherine Parr (NPG 4451).The paint here around the column and coat of arms is opaque, fluid and confidently applied. The handling in this area indicates it was painted by a different hand, apparently a Netherlandish artist or an artist trained by a European émigré.
Two of the boards that were used to make the full-length panel have extremely interesting carved marks on the back of the panel: these appear to be cargo, merchant or quality marks inscribed into the wood before it was transported by boat to England.
Changes to the composition
There is evidence of several significant changes made to the composition at the painting stage:
- The positions of the fingers of the hand on the right and the cuff were changed slightly from the original underdrawn lines.
- The x-ray shows a dense area with a curved top at the top left beneath the wreathed coat of arms and marble column. The curve of the top can also be seen in the paint surface in raking light. It is evident from this that a window was originally painted on the left. It seems, therefore, that there may have been two windows in the initial design or that the window was moved at an early stage. This left side window was later painted over with a layer of black and the column and coat of arms painted in.
- The x-ray also shows that the position of the feet and to some extent the legs was altered. The feet were initially painted a little further apart with the right foot a little higher on the carpet. These changes can also be observed on the paint surface. This change was made after the carpet was painted in. The area where the right foot was placed originally (above the present foot) was blocked out with an opaque red.
Justification for dating
Key evidence found as a result of this study has shown that the changes to the background, and the addition of the royal coat of arms, would indicate that the picture was painted just shortly after Edward's accession (see above). The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. Analysis of the wooden panel by dendrochronology has revealed that the board with the latest tree ring is unlikely to have been felled before 1530.
Drawing and transfer technique
Underdrawing can be seen under the paint surface in several areas. It is visible in the left temple, in the lips, eyes, nose, and the line of the chin, the outline of the undershirt collar and the hands.
Some of the drawing, whether applied as part of an addition to a pattern or as free hand, appears spontaneous. For example, the drawing indicating shadow in the temple is executed with a simple zig-zag line. The lines in the eyes and eyebrows are finer and may be traced.
Relevance to other known versions
An early portrait of Edward as Prince attributed to Scrots is in the Royal Collection (without the Royal Arms). A similar picture is at Petworth House (also with the Royal Arms but with a different background and dated 1547).
Other versions exist at:
- Audley End
- Hampton Court (as by Scrots)
- Musée de Roanne (as by Scrots)
- Louvre (attrib. to Scrots)
- Los Angeles County Museum, with inscription
Later versions of this composition also exist:
- Cornbury Park
- Northwick Park, sword without belt
- King Edward VI School, Birmingham
- Ex coll. Earl of Minto
- Helmingham Hall
- Hermitage St Petersburg, School of Holbein
- Sotheby's Amsterdam Sale 16/17 Oct 2001
- Montacute House (NPG1999)
- Hodgkins coll. Once from the collection of Sir J C Robinson
- Longford Castle, coll. Earl of Rednor
- Losely Park, after Scrots
- Bristol Baptist College, Avon
Strong, Roy, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.87-94
Strong, Roy, The Elizabethan Image: Painting in England 1540- 1620, Tate Gallery, 1969-70, p.11, (No.2)
The panel is in reasonable condition. The paint surface has a slight tendency to develop shallow blisters and should be monitored. The paint surface has suffered abrasion in many areas. There are numerous old restored paint losses, including down the panel joins. The flesh paint is very worn and the blue priming is evident under the thin paint. There are many areas of restoration in the red costume, in the blue cushion and in the gold canopy. The gold canopy has lost many of its glazes. The restoration is in good condition and well matched. The gilt column and the coat of arms are the areas of the paint surface in the best condition. The varnish is reasonably even and semi-glossy.
The gilding has suffered much abrasion and losses along the panel joins. There is restoration in many parts. There are residues of an opaque granular brown overpaint which covered the thin transparent brown glaze on the gold areas before restoration in 1983.
Number of boards: 3
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
The panel is in good condition. It has a slight convex warp. The top of the right side join is opening a little. There are old woodworm holes visible at the back. The furthest right and central boards (from reverse) retain their riven surfaces on the reverse, and both have extremely interesting gouge marks (see Tyers Dendrochronology report and raking light photographs). There are also other applied marks on the verso, which are probably cargo marks, merchant marks or quality marks applied before transportation of the wood from the Baltic (see Reverse01). The left-hand board (from the reverse) has a sawn surface, with a 'scar' at the lower edge where the saw cut was broken through, rather than completely sawn through. There are vertical wood buttons and wood strips, and also strips of canvas on the back of the joins; these are not original and were applied to strengthen and repair the joins. There are old woodworm holes, especially in the left hand member.
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: 1522
The boards were labelled A to C from the left for analysis (from the front). The last tree ring identified (found in board C) was from 1522. No sapwood was present at the outermost edges of any of the boards so a terminus post quem date can be applied. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggests that the tree used for board C cannot have been felled before 1530.
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 x-ray image is extremely interesting and shows considerable changes across the painting (see x-ray mosaic 01). Changes can be seen in the position of the foot on the left (see x-ray 09) and to some extent the legs, and a dense area with a curved top (top left) showing the window which was painted beneath the column and the coat of arms (see x-ray 01). These changes indicate that the picture was significantly revised during the painting process (see Surface examination). The holes made by the points of the compasses can be seen in the centre of the decorative balls on the chair. The lead containing mordant under the gilding can be seen very clearly.
The thin modelling in the face is visible. The wood grain, dowels and metal plates can be seen in x-ray (see Support).
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
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.
Investigation was carried out by Ashok Roy in 1983 and Libby Sheldon in 2007.
The layer structure is similar to that of Catherine Parr (NPG 4451) with a chalk ground, and a thin light blue priming containing azurite, lead white, umber and red ochre, under most if not the whole painting (see Surface examination).
Mordant under gold
The yellow from the lower part of the raised decoration on the cloak (below the fur on the right-hand side) was found to be a mixture of a lead-tin yellow with red ochre with a little black. The yellow from the more raised decoration was the same mixture, but with a good deal of lead white added to make it brighter in colour.
The blue tassel on the lower left was investigated and it was found that azurite was the only blue pigment present.
Two samples were taken from the backdrop in 1983. These established that the gold leaf here was applied over a yellowish mordant and the patterns were painted in black over the gold, but could not identify copper in the glaze layer (see Surface examination). In 2007, some fragments of greenish glaze were observed on the surface and sampled by Libby Sheldon (see Surface examination). In cross-section this showed a layer with characteristics of a copper green glaze which has deteriorated to a translucent brown. A particle of verdigris was also present in the mixture.
A sample taken by Sheldon from the carpet (see sample 3) shows complex structure in the carpet - possibly where areas overlap. Sample 4 is very similar to the paint structure in a sample taken by Hassall (sample 1) from the portrait of Catherine Parr (NPG 4451). Hassall attributed the dark layer to a pentiment, and Sheldon supported this suggestion.
Another sample was taken from a green area of carpet, which found a pale green with a green glaze over it, and then a further layer of opaque green paint. This opaque paint was found to be a mixture of azurite and lead-tin yellow (Energy dispersive x-ray analysis by Sheldon, 2007). Azurite was also used in a mixed green in the carpet in Catherine Parr (NPG 4451), but in that case with earth pigments. The glaze layer might be verdigris (also found in the cloth canopy - see above).
Samples taken by Sheldon showed the sky to be composed of layers of azurite and lead 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 panel was prepared with a white chalk ground.
A pale blue priming (see Paint sampling for composition) can be seen in areas of abrasion, e.g. the hands and parts of the face, in the edges of the cracks in the red costume, and along the top and bottom edges of the paint surface where it flows over the unpainted edges of the panel (see micro 01, micro 04 and micro 19). It can be seen in the shadows of the temples, chin and eyelid (see micro 19). Examination with the microscope seems to show only the white ground under most of the paint surface of the face, and the underdrawing seems to lie on the white ground layer. However, the face is very abraded and much restored, and the blue priming has probably been lost in some parts of the flesh paint.
Underdrawing and planning
Underdrawing can be seen under the paint surface in several areas (see micro 08 and micro 09). Drawing indicating shadow in the temple is executed with a simple zig-zag line (see micro 06), and lines in the mouth and nose, and along the chin and the undershirt collar appear to be in the same medium. Lines in the eyes and eyebrows are finer. The positions of the fingers of the hand on the right and the cuff were changed at the painting stage (see also Infrared reflectography).
The golden balls at the top of the throne, the ends of the arms and the claw and ball feet were drawn with a pair of compasses: incised circles are visible in the surface under the gilding - this is particularly visible at the left throne back and at the front of the left arm. The hole where the point of the compass rested is visible in the centre of these balls (see micro 13) and can also be seen in the x-ray image (see X-ray).
A window was painted in at the left at an early stage. This can be seen in x-ray and its outline can faintly be seen on surface examination. It was painted over at a later stage with a layer of black, then the column and coat of arms were painted (see below). The lines of the left edge of the window and the fluting in the column have been drawn with a straight edge and seem to be incised in the paint surface.
Paint layer structure
Azurite and black pigment observed in the white of the eyes, and brown and red in the iris.
Red outer robe
As with the costume in the portrait of Catherine Parr (NPG 4451), the red has been painted over silver leaf of a comparable thickness to leaf gilding. However, in a sampled area of this painting (Ashok Roy's 1983 investigation), the silver has been applied twice (see micro 27). Initially, a layer of silver leaf was applied over a mordant, then a red glaze painted over the silver. Over this another similar but warmer and more opaque mordant (containing lead white, red lead/ochre and azurite) was applied, and then another layer of silver. In cross-section, lead soaps can be seen in the upper mordant. Roy states that the similarity in manner of execution and appearance of the two sequences suggests that these are by the same workshop, and therefore both part of the original painting, rather than later additions.
The strips of opaque red around the edges of the outer robe, under the gilded embroidery, do not have silver leaf or red glaze, but under the microscope it can be seen that these strips were painted before the second sequence of silver leaf and red glaze were applied to the rest of the robe. It is also clear that the white sleeves and some of the blue/green paint of the tassels were painted before the second layer of silver was applied (see bottom edge of dagger tassel).
It seems most likely that the first silver layer was applied at the same time as the gold leaf on the throne, canopy and backdrop (see below), at an early stage in the creation of the painting, when the principle elements of the composition were laid in. The red lake over the lower layer would then have been painted in when initial paint layers were applied in other areas. The second layer of silver leaf was evidently added at a late stage in the process just before the final details on the painting were added, probably around the time the position of feet and legs was altered. There is no obvious explanation for the presence of two layers of silver leaf but the first layer was probably unsatisfactory in some way.
Detail on the costume
Much of the gilded detail on the costume was finely painted first with a light brown mordant. In the more raised sections, such as the raised threads, the Garter chain, the jewels on the hat and the detail on the dagger, this was followed by a paler layer (containing the same pigments, with more white) as a thick mordant for gold leaf (see Paint sampling). The surface has suffered abrasion and in many parts only the mordant is visible, as the gold has been lost.
Shoes and fur edging to coat
The slits in the shoes are painted with a smooth wet-in-wet technique. The threads along the slits were among the last parts of the painting to be applied, at the same stage as the fine brushstrokes for the final details of the fur edging of the coat.
The gilding on the chair
Feet: the balls were gilded at an early stage but the claws were gilded after the initial layers of carpet paint had been applied. The modelling on the gilding was carried out with transparent brown glazes.
Cushion and tassels
The blue/green cushion and inner cores of the tassels contain azurite, which has darkened and become more green over time, with changes in the oil medium (see Paint sampling). The outer and lower edges of the right-hand tassel are painted in black. The light threads were gilded over a mordant, using the same technique noted in the costume. The tassels have suffered considerable abrasion and have been restored to some extent. The gilded decoration on the cushion is extremely damaged but some of it remains.
The gold canopy and backdrop
The gold leaf was applied over a yellowish mordant layer (see Roy's 1983 report). The patterns were painted in black over the gold, and the gold and pattern then glazed with an overall thin brown layer (see detail 12). A further glaze was applied in parallel lines to achieve variation in tone. In places, some fragments of what might be a copper green glaze can be seen (see micro 11 and Paint sampling).
Pearls on the throne
Pigments observed: black, lead white and azurite.
The carpet is painted with a technique of blended brushstrokes for the tufted surface, similar to that used in the carpet in the portrait of Catherine Parr (NPG 4451). Here, however, the handling is tighter and neater, and more comparable to the carpet in the portrait of Thomas Cranmer (NPG 535). It is likely that this area is painted by a different artist (see [detail 02|img/[5511_2012_detail02.jpg]}). Pigments observed are also similar: yellow ochre, lead white, vermilion, red lake, black, lead-tin yellow and azurite. One paint sample showed similarities in structure to the Catherine Parr carpet (see Paint sampling).
Column, coat of arms with wreath
The column, wreath and coat of arms were applied at a late stage in the process and were painted over the window initially painted at the left (see detail 14). The column was painted first, and the wreath and coat of arms over it. The wreath was painted after the crown, and the apple decorations added last. The gilt-bronze base of the column is painted with lead-tin yellow, with no gilding. In all sections, the mid-tones and shadows were put in first, then the highlights added. The paint is quite thick and opaque, fluid and confidently applied (see micro 21, micro 22, micro 24, micro 26). The highlight pigments appear to be lead-tin yellow and lead-tin yellow mixed with earth pigments and vermilion. The handling of these passages indicates that they were painted by a different hand from other parts of the picture: they are painted in a more 'modern' manner than the decorative work elsewhere.
Order of construction
- White chalk ground
- Pale blue priming
It is difficult to establish the order of the subsequent paint and metal leaf layers, as it seems that several painters may have been involved. It can, however, be assumed that the column, wreath and coat of arms were amongst the last elements to be painted.
See above for detailed discussion of various stages of the construction process.
Azurite with some malachite (throughout the painting different grades, due to levels of grinding, of azurite were used), lead white, carbon black, red ochre, lead-tin yellow, vermilion, red lake glaze, verdigris, gold leaf, silver leaf
Changes to the composition/pentimenti
It seems that there were two windows in the initial design. The curve of the top can been seen in the paint surface in raking light (see above and X-ray).
Changes to the feet can be seen from the paint surface: they were initially painted a little further apart with the foot on the left placed a little higher on the carpet (see X-ray). It is clear that they were made after the carpet was painted in because carpet paint can be seen beneath the lower part of the feet where the surface has been abraded, especially on the foot on the left. The area where the foot on the left was placed originally (above the present foot) was blocked out with an opaque red. It seems that the red glaze applied over this has faded, perhaps due to the presence of lead white in the overpainted foot paint, which would have more reflectance and therefore cause more fading.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
Ultra violet light shows extensive restoration across the whole surface, down the panel joins and in abraded areas.
See this portrait
On display in Room 1 at the National Portrait Gallery