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Anne Boleyn

1 of 26 portraits of Anne Boleyn

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Anne Boleyn

by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, late 16th century, based on a work of circa 1533-1536
21 3/8 in. x 16 3/8 in. (543 mm x 416 mm)
Purchased, 1882
Primary Collection
NPG 668

Sitterback to top

  • Anne Boleyn (circa 1500-1536), Second Queen of Henry VIII. Sitter associated with 26 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

This painting is probably based on a contemporary portrait which no longer survives. Boleyn was described as having a long neck, wide mouth and with 'eyes which were black and beautiful'. This portrait has recently undergone structural conservation following a successful fundraising campaign and the generous support of public donations.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 17
  • 100 Portraits, p. 17
  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 22 Read entry

    Anne Boleyn was the niece of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, the highest-ranking member of the English nobility. She was largely educated at the French court, and served Katherine of Aragon as a maid of honour after her return to England. Unlike her sister Mary, she refused to become the king’s mistress and married Henry in secret in 1533, shortly before his marriage to Katherine of Aragon was annulled. Their daughter, Elizabeth, was born later that year, but by 1536 the pressure for a male heir after a number of miscarriages led Henry to doubt the legitimacy of their marriage. That same year Anne was executed on a charge of adultery and incest. Anne was described as having a long neck, wide mouth and ‘eyes which are black and beautiful’. However, her central role in England’s break from the Catholic Church made her a contentious figure and meant that descriptions were often biased against her, such as the report – made many years after her death – that she had six fingers. No contemporary painting of Anne survives, but this portrait is probably a copy of a likeness taken during her brief reign. It is possible that images of her were deliberately destroyed, in the same way that her heraldic devices were removed from the royal palaces after her execution. However, her reputation and interest in her image enjoyed a resurgence during the long reign of her daughter, Elizabeth I.

  • Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 38
  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 89 Read entry

    All the surviving portraits of Anne were created after her death, usually as part of portrait sets of English monarchs. They probably derive from a lost contemporary portrait and conform to descriptions of Anne's long neck and dark eyes, and depict her wearing a distinctive necklace with a pendant letter 'B'.

  • Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 2
  • Cooper, Tarnya, Elizabeth I & Her People, 2013 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 10 October 2013 - 5 January 2014), p. 206
  • Cooper, Tarnya (introduction) Banville, John (character sketch) Chevalier, Tracy (character sketch) Fellowes, Julian (character sketch) McCall Smith, Alexander (character sketch) Pratchett, Terry (character sketch) Singleton, Sarah (character sketch) Trollope, Joanna (character sketch) Waters, Minette (character sketch), Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People, 2011 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from December 2011 - June 2012), p. 87
  • Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of The Tudors, 2006, p. 11
  • MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 17
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 14
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 5
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 35 Read entry

    Anne Boleyn became Queen of England as the second consort of Henry VIII in 1533. She spent part of her early life abroad, at the court of Margaret of Austria and as a member of the household of Queen Claude of France. When she later joined the court of Henry VIII she was distinguished by her continental education and interest in music and fashion. Her affair with Henry began in 1526 and the couple married in secret in 1533, shortly before the King’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon was annulled. Later that year their daughter, the future Elizabeth I, was born. In 1536 Anne was charged with adultery and incest and executed for treason.

    This portrait is a late sixteenth-century version based upon a type made of Anne when Queen, and now lost. This portrait may have once belonged to a set of kings and queens that displayed portraits in chronological sequence. Contemporary descriptions suggest Anne was of a dark complexion with a long neck, dark hair and ‘black and beautiful’ eyes.

  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 88
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 88

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1533back to top

Current affairs

King Henry VIII secretly marries Anne Boleyn in January although his marriage to Catherine of Aragon is not annulled until May. Anne is crowned Queen in June.
Pope Clement VII excommunicates Henry VIII for bigamy.
Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I) is born at Greenwich in September
Thomas Cranmer becomes Archbishop of Canterbury.

Art and science

The German artist Hans Holbein the Younger paints The Ambassadors.


Peace treaty between Ferdinand I, Archduke of Austria and Suleiman I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire divides Hungary into areas under Hapsburg and Ottoman control.
The Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro executes Atahulpa, emperor of the Incas, and marches on the Inca capital Cuzco (in present-day Peru).

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