Why are the four portraits of Edward all slightly different?

Mordant gilding on aglet and red jacket (NPG 5511)

Even though Edward VI (1537-1553) only lived for 16 years and reigned for just six years, a surprising number of portraits of him exist both as Prince of Wales and as King. The multiple images reflect his importance as Henry VIII's only male heir. During Edward's lifetime the ownership and display of his portrait became important also as a way of showing allegiance to the new Protestant faith.

Edward was drawn from life by the king's painter Hans Holbein and by other important foreign artists. Very soon afterwards many other versions of these portraits were made for widespread consumption.

Edge of fur and red jacket - showing layer structure and technique (NPG 5511)

Portraits of Edward in full-length format, (for example NPG 5511), date from around 1547 and at least four contemporary versions exist. The earliest shows Edward as Prince (Royal Collection, Windsor). Others are at the Louvre, the National Trust, Petworth House and Audley End. This type (sometimes in half length format) became one of the most popular ways to represent Edward in the Elizabethan and Jacobean period. The National Portrait Gallery version shows Edward in very richly decorated costume. The painting materials (with gold and silver leaf evident in the micro details on the left) probably reflect the materials in the actual fabric worn by Edward.

Gilding on St George badge (NPG 5511)

Portraits showing Edward in profile were also popular within his lifetime. For example NPG 442 shows Edward VI as Prince of Wales just before he succeeded his father in 1547 aged nine. The earliest version of this type has been ascribed to the Netherlandish artist William Scrots is dated to 1543 and is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

The anamorphic portrait NPG1299 is also based on this profile type. Xray has revealed the signature on the frame: guilhelmus pingebat, making it likely the attribution may be accurate.

Examination of the anamorphic portrait revealed some interesting findings about different parts of the painting. The style, paint handling and pigments of the landscape differ considerably from those within the oval. These differences indicate that these areas were painted by two different artists.

    King Edward VI,    by Unknown artist, after  William Scrots,    circa 1546,    NPG 442,    © National Portrait Gallery, London King Edward VI
by Unknown artist, after William Scrots
oil on panel, circa 1546
18 5/8 in. x 11 in. (473 mm x 279 mm)
NPG 442
© National Portrait Gallery, London
    King Edward VI,    attributed to William Scrots,    1546,    NPG 1299,    © National Portrait Gallery, London King Edward VI
attributed to William Scrots
oil on panel, anamorphosis, 1546
16 3/4 in. x 63 in. (425 mm x 1600 mm)
NPG 1299
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Details from the outer landscape

Figure in landscape - showing layer structure and technique (NPG 1299)
Figures in landscape (NPG 1299)
Detail of rabbits in landscape (NPG 1299)

Details from within The Oval

Edge of white border (NPG 1299)
Detail of Edward's eye (NPG 1299)