King Henry VIII

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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King Henry VIII

by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, circa 1535-1540
22 1/2 in. x 16 3/4 in. (572 mm x 425 mm)
Purchased, 1904
Primary Collection
NPG 1376

On display at British Galleries, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Sitterback to top

  • King Henry VIII (1491-1547), Reigned 1509-47. Sitter associated with 99 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

This portrait of the king was probably produced by an English or Netherlandish artist working in England. The frame is original to the picture, although it has been repainted many times. Investigation of the paint layers indicates that the frame was quite brightly coloured originally, perhaps in imitation of marble or tortoiseshell.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 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)
  • 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. 150 Read entry

    Painted and gilt oak, mitred lap joint with dowels, the top 9 inches of the back of the frame and the corresponding area of the back of the panel painted over with a yellow orpiment and white chalk mixture probably in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, possible traces of scribe lines at one corner on the reverse of the frame, two partly filled hanging holes on the reverse at top centre, further holes at top left and top right, probably recent but possibly associated with old fixings such as for a picture curtain. 2 3⁄ 4 inches wide.

    Like the frame on the portrait of Henry VI (NPG 2457), this is an engaged frame made of oak, held together by corner dowels, although the original retaining grooves holding the panel painting in place have long since been cut away at the back. The portrait is from an unidentified Anglo-Flemish workshop and appears to have been painted in the frame, judging from the ridges of paint at the edge of the portrait. This has been confirmed by chemical analysis which shows splashes of the white underpaint used on the panel occurring on the extreme inner edge of the frame.1 The same analysis suggests that the frame has been decorated five times. The original finish was a combination of gilding and what appears to be a type of graining. At a later date the graining was varnished black, leaving the gilding intact. The whole frame was subsequently twice varnished black all over. The frame was probably given its present graining and gilding in the nineteenth century.

    What was the frame like originally? The areas that are gold today were originally gilded. The main part of the frame had a semi-translucent dark layer of paint laid directly over a white ground. It is uncertain precisely how this layer would have been painted, but it may have been a form of graining, or possibly tortoiseshell or marbling. It is made up of a mixture of azurite blue and fine-particled red and brown ochres. The whole frame including the gilding was finally given a clear varnish. The picture was probably hung by a ribbon or cord through holes pierced through the back and top of the frame.

    1 A pigment analysis was undertaken in 1996 by UCL Painting Analysis Ltd, report no.c891.

  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 156

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1535back to top

Current affairs

The former Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More is beheaded for High Treason after refusing to recognise King Henry VIII's religious supremacy.
The Bishop of Rochester John Fisher is executed on the same charge.

Art and science

The German artist Hans Holbein the Younger paints King Henry VIII.


The French navigator Jacques Cartier explores the sites that will become Quebec and Montreal. He names the territory Canada.
Lima in present day Peru is founded by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro
The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V captures the city of Tunis in present-day Tunisia from the Ottoman admiral Khair ad-Din, called Barbarossa.

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