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King Henry VII

1 of 66 portraits of King Henry VII

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King Henry VII

by Unknown Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, 1505
16 3/4 in. x 12 in. (425 mm x 305 mm) arched top
Purchased, 1876
Primary Collection
NPG 416

Sitterback to top

  • King Henry VII (1457-1509), Reigned 1485-1509. Sitter associated with 66 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

This impressive portrait is the earliest painting in the National Portrait Gallery's collection. The inscription records that the portrait was painted on 29 October 1505 by order of Herman Rinck, an agent for the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I. The portrait was probably painted as part of an unsuccessful marriage proposal, as Henry hoped to marry Maximilian's daughter Margaret of Savoy as his second wife. The frame is integral with the panel painting and thus original, being made out of a single piece of oak, but for an applied soft wood moulding forming the outer element of the arched top. Gessoed and water gilt, the gilding modern (later black paint on outer moulding removed, 1972), 1 1/8 in. (29 mm) wide.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • I-Spy National Portrait Gallery, 2010, p. 5
  • Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 8
  • 100 Portraits, p. 13
  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 19 Read entry

    The Welsh-born Henry Tudor was left as the unlikely head of the House of Lancaster following the murder of Henry VI and battlefield execution of Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, during the Wars of the Roses. After years in exile, he rallied an army and defeated the Yorkist king Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. His marriage to Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York soon after his coronation helped to reunite the warring factions of the English nobility and brought a degree of stability to the country. A notably clever king, he amassed enormous wealth for the Crown, developing a reputation for avarice that soured his relationships with many leading members of his court. Henry sought to embed his fledgling dynasty in the network of European powers through a series of marriage alliances: his eldest son, Arthur, married Katherine of Aragon, and his daughter Margaret married James IV of Scotland. Henry, too, looked to marry into a European dynasty following the death of Elizabeth of York, and in 1505 this portrait was created by order of an agent of the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I to send to Margaret of Austria, Dowager Duchess of Savoy. Henry wears the collar of the Hapsburg chivalric order of the Golden Fleece, rather than the English collar of the Order of the Garter, in deference to the portrait’s intended audience. The negotiations came to nothing, but the portrait remained in the duchess’s collection at Mechelen in Belgium until her death in 1530

  • 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. 18
  • 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), pp. 30-36
  • 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. 86 Read entry

    This portrait was created as part of marriage negotiations in 1505 between Henry VII and Margaret of Austria following the death of Henry's first wife, Elizabeth of York. Although the marriage did not take place, Margaret kept the portrait.

  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 4 Read entry

    The oldest portrait in the Collection. Commissioned on behalf of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I as part of (fruitless) negotiations for his daughter’s marriage to Henry VII.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 12
  • Cooper, Tarnya; Fraser, Antonia (foreword), A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2012, p. 27 Read entry

    This compelling portrait of Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor dynasty, was painted as part of marriage negotiations between Henry and Margaret of Austria in 1505. Margaret was the widowed daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.

    Although nothing came of the negotiations, this portrait hung in her palace at Mechelen in Belgium until her death in 1540. Henry appears here as a shrewd and calculating middle-aged man wearing fur-lined robes richly embroidered with gold thread and holding a rose, the all-important symbol of the Tudor dynasty.

    Some of the best portraits of monarchs painted from life were produced to exchange with potential marriage partners from foreign courts.

  • Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of The Tudors, 2006, p. 4
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 12
  • Lloyd, Stephen (ed.), Art, animals and politics : Knowsley and the Earls of Derby, 2016, p. 37
  • MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 8
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 24
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 26
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 39
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 32
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 32 Read entry

    According to the inscription, this portrait of Henry VII, large-nosed and without eyelashes, was painted on 2 October 1505 for Herman Rinck, agent to Emperor Maximilian I. Rinck was in charge of negotiations to marry Henry VII to the Emperor's daughter, Margaret of Savoy,so the painting was done in order to give her an idea of what Henry VII looked like. It succeeds admirably in suggesting a man who was shrewd in all that he did to establish the Tudor dynasty; but it did not persuade her to marry him.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 296
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 31, 149 Read entry

    Oak, integral with the panel, with an applied outer moulding of softwood along the arched top (the grain of the wood and the nail fixings are visible under x-rays), gessoed and water gilt, the later black paint on the outer moulding removed in 1972 and regilt. 1 1⁄ 8 inches wide.

    This is the earliest painting in the National Portrait Gallery's collection. The frame is integral with the panel painting, being made out of a single piece of oak, but for an applied softwood moulding forming the outer element of the arched top. The gilding is modern. According to the inscription above the sill, the panel was painted for Herman Rinck, agent of the Emperor Maximilian I. It is the work of an unknown Netherlandish artist (the old attribution to Michel Sittow does not appear tenable).1 The panel is probably the portrait of Henry VII which belonged to the Emperor's daughter, Margaret, and was recorded as being in her palace at Malines in 1516 when it was described as having 'une couverture paincte de vermeil', or a cover painted in red.2 The back of the panel is indeed red but the three old inserts in the panel do not appear to be related to a cover for the portrait.3

    1 I owe this observation to my colleague, Catharine MacLeod.

    2 Roy Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp 149-50. Strong reproduces a detail from an x-ray of the picture as pl.291.

    3 These wooden inserts are at the top (1 5⁄ 8 inches wide), 2 3⁄ 4 inches below the top (15⁄ 16 of an inch wide and 7 1⁄ 2 inches below the top (1 inch wide). It is possible that the top insert is in the position of old hanging holes for the portrait. The other two inserts may have been made to prevent the panel splitting at its weakest point.

  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 149
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 31 Read entry

    This impressive portrait is the earliest painting in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection and the earliest surviving portrait of this king. Henry VII was the son of Edmund Tudor and head of the House of Lancaster (signified by the red rose he holds in this portrait). His victory over the Yorkist king, Richard III, at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 saw the start of the Tudor monarchy. His marriage to Elizabeth of York united the previously warring factions of Lancaster and York. His reign was characterised by his desire for political control and the considerable wealth he brought to the Crown.

    The inscription on the portrait records that it was commissioned on 29 October 1505 by Herman Rinck, an agent of Emperor Maximillian I, as part of the marriage negotiations between Henry and the Emperor’s daughter, Margaret of Austria, Dowager Duchess of Savoy. The marriage did not take place, however the portrait remained in the Duchess’s collection.

    The panel and arched frame are made from one single piece of wood. Documentary evidence suggests that this picture once had a red painted cover.

  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 84
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 85

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1505back to top

Current affairs

Prince Henry (later Henry VIII) raises objections to marrying his late brother's wife, Catherine, despite the Pope's permission.

Art and science

King Henry VII's portrait is painted. It is the earliest portrait in the National Portrait Gallery collection.


A Portuguese armada, led by Francesco d'Almeida, attacks the east African ports of Kilwa and Mombasa in a bid to monopolise spice trade.

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