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King Edward VI and the Pope

King Edward VI and the Pope, by Unknown artist, circa 1575 - NPG 4165 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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King Edward VI and the Pope

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, circa 1575
24 1/2 in. x 35 3/4 in. (622 mm x 908 mm)
Purchased, 1960
Primary Collection
NPG 4165

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Dendrochronological analysis shows that the panel on which this intriguing picture is painted comes from a tree that was felled between 1574 and 1590. The painting may well have been produced to commemorate the anti-papal policies of Edward VI and to celebrate the successful re-establishment of the Church of England under Elizabeth I. It shows Henry VIII on his deathbed (left), pointing towards his successor Edward VI. To the right of Edward are members of his council including the Protector, Lord Somerset, and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. In the inset (top right) is a scene of the destruction of holy images, and below Edward, the Pope is crushed by 'the worde of the Lord' - written in English. The blank white spaces may have been intended for further anti-Catholic inscriptions.
Conservation of this painting was supported by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Project.

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Current affairs

Queen Elizabeth I declines the offer of sovereignty of the Netherlands made by William of Orange, leader of the Dutch Protestant resistance to Spanish rule.
The royal favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester hosts a lavish entertainment for the Queen at Kenilworth.

Art and science

The composers William Byrd and Thomas Tallis dedicate Cantiones Sacrae (Sacred Songs) to Queen Elizabeth I after receiving a royal patent for the exclusive right to publish music.


Facing bankruptcy, Philip II of Spain suspends all payments by the Spanish crown. Don Luis de Requesens can no longer pay his troops in the Netherlands.
Akbar, Mughal Emperor of India, conquers Bengal.
The Battle of Nagashino features the first decisive use of firearms in Japanese warfare.

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Andrea Di Carlo

27 May 2016, 10:52

This painting has attracted a great deal of scholarship, but British historian Margaret Aston (1932-2014) provided a ground-breaking historical interpretation of it in her book "The King's Bedpost: Reformation and Iconography in a Tudor Group Portrait" (1993). She contends that the painting was produced at a much later stage, during the Elizabethan Age, where iconoclasm resurged, as it is posited in the inset in the right-hand corner; both King Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I were likened to Old Testament iconoclastic kings, Edward VI being Josiah and Queen Elizabeth being Hezekiah.

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