King Henry VIII; King Henry VII

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King Henry VIII; King Henry VII

by Hans Holbein the Younger
ink and watercolour, circa 1536-1537
101 1/2 in. x 54 in. (2578 mm x 1372 mm)
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1957
Primary Collection
NPG 4027

On display in Room 1 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

  • Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 or 1498-1543), Painter, printmaker and designer; son of Hans Holbein the Elder. Artist or producer associated with 310 portraits, Sitter associated with 25 portraits.

This portraitback to top

To commemorate the strength and triumphs of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VIII commissioned from Holbein a wall-painting for Whitehall Palace; this was completed in 1537. The immediate impetus for the commission may have been the birth or the expectation of the birth of Henry's son Edward, later Edward VI, in October 1537. The mural may have been in Henry's Privy Chamber and therefore have had a select, restricted audience rather than being an image of wider propaganda. This very large drawing is the preparatory drawing or cartoon for the left-hand section of that wall-painting, and shows Henry with his father Henry VII, the founder of the dynasty. The right-hand section showed Henry VIII's third wife Jane Seymour (1509?-37) and his mother Elizabeth of York (1465-1503). Holbein's painting was destroyed in the Whitehall Palace fire of 1698, and the cartoon for the right-hand side section is lost. The appearance of the whole painting is however recorded in a mid-seventeenth century copy by Remegius van Leemput in the Royal Collection. The cartoon is executed in black ink and watercolour on several sheets of paper joined together. The figures and faces of the kings are cut-outs pasted on to the backing paper. The cartoon is exactly the same size as the finished painting and was used to transfer Holbein's design to its intended position on the palace wall. To do this the cartoon was pricked along the main outlines of the composition and then fixed in the intended position on the wall. Chalk or charcoal dust was then brushed into the holes made by pricking, thus transferring the outline to the wall. Holbein could then proceed with filling in his design.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 9
  • 100 Portraits, p. 14
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Lost faces : identity and discovery in Tudor Royal portraiture, 2007 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from Catalogue of an exhbition held at Philip Mould, London, 6-18 March 2007), p. 44 number 22
  • Bolland, Charlotte, The Tudors Passion, Power and Politics, 2022, p. 44
  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 24 Read entry

    The German artist Hans Holbein the Younger worked as the king’s painter and was paid the comparatively large sum of £30 per year. He undertook various types of work at the English court but is perhaps most widely remembered for his portraits. His most significant commission was a wall painting in Whitehall Palace that commemorated the strength of the Tudor dynasty. This was completed in 1537, and included Henry VII and Elizabeth of York as well as Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour. However, it was destroyed by fire in 1698 and is now known only through a mid seventeenth century copy by Remigius van Leemput (Royal Collection) and the large preparatory drawing, known as a cartoon, that was made by Holbein in order to transfer the design to the wall. The cartoon is executed in black ink and watercolour on several sheets of paper joined together. The outlines of the design were pricked with tiny holes in order to create a copy on sheets of paper lying beneath. This copy would then have been ‘pounced’, a process by which charcoal dust was pushed through the holes in order to transfer the composition to another surface. Only the cartoon for the left-hand side of the composition survives, and it may have been retained in order to make copies of the full-length image of the king.

  • 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. 26
  • 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. 52
  • 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. 43
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 9 Read entry

    The completed work showed additional female figures: Henry VIII’s mother, Elizabeth of York, and his third wife Jane Seymour, mother of the future Edward VI.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 13
  • Cooper, Tarnya; Fraser, Antonia (foreword), A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2012, p. 26
  • Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of The Tudors, 2006, p. 9
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 13 Read entry

    This is a detailed preparatory drawing, or ‘cartoon’, for the left-hand side of a large dynastic mural in Whitehall Palace depicting Henry VIII, accompanied by his third wife Jane Seymour, and Henry's parents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Holbein used black ink and pricked through, or ‘pounced’, the paper to transfer the outlines to the wall. The mural was destroyed when Whitehall Palace was burned down in 1698.

  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 6
  • MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 9
  • MacLeod, Catharine (preface, appreciation) Wilks, Timothy (introduction) Smuts, Malcolm (appreciation) MacGibbon, Rab (appendix), The Lost Prince: The Life and Death of Henry Stuart, 2012 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 18 October 2012 to 13 January 2013), p. 34
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 22
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 13
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 297
  • Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 31
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 150
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 36 Read entry

    In 1537 Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8–1543) completed a great wall painting for the Privy Chamber at Whitehall. The painting was a celebration of the Tudor dynasty, and the occasion for the commission may have been the birth – or the expectation of the birth – of Henry’s son Edward, later Edward VI, in October 1537. This large work is the preparatory drawing, or cartoon, for the left-hand section, which shows Henry VIII (left) with his father Henry VII, the founder of the dynasty. The right-hand section of the mural depicted Henry VIII’s third wife Jane Seymour and his mother Elizabeth of York.

    The drawing is executed on many sheets of paper joined together, with the figures of the kings cut and pasted onto the architectural background. Cartoons were pricked for the outlines to be transferred by brushing charcoal dust through the holes. This drawing does not appear to have been used for transfer, suggesting that it was made as a record. Holbein’s painting was destroyed in the Whitehall Palace fire of 1698, and the cartoon for the right-hand section is now lost. A mid-seventeenth-century copy by Remigius van Leemput survives in the Royal Collection.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1536back to top

Current affairs

Anne Boleyn miscarries a male child. She is accused of adultery and beheaded for High Treason. Henry marries Jane Seymour eleven days after the Anne's death.
The Act of Succession declares Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate.
The Act of Suppression marks the beginning of the dissolution of the monasteries.
Pilgrimage of Grace popular rising against Henry VIII's Church reforms and the economic effects of enclosure.

Art and science

The German artist Hans Holbein the Younger makes a large preparatory drawing, (cartoon) of King Henry VIII for the Whitehall Palace wall painting.

International

The French Protestant reformer Jean Calvin publishes Institutio Christianae Religionis (Institute of the Christian Religion), the founding text of the Calvinist churches.
The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V invades Provence and besieges Marseille
Francis I of France conquers Savoy and Piedmont.

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