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Sir Thomas More

1 of 54 portraits of Sir Thomas More

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir Thomas More

after Hans Holbein the Younger
oil on panel, early 17th century, based on a work of 1527
29 1/2 in. x 23 in. (749 mm x 584 mm)
Purchased with help from the Pilgrim Trust, Stanley Morison, Kenneth More and the Sir Thomas More Appeal Fund, 1964
Primary Collection
NPG 4358

On display in Room 1 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Thomas More (1478-1535), Lord Chancellor, classical scholar, author of 'Utopia' and canonized 1935. Sitter associated with 54 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 or 1498-1543), Painter, printmaker and designer; son of Hans Holbein the Elder. Artist associated with 314 portraits, Sitter associated with 25 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This is a fine, highly accomplished version of a portrait by Holbein in the Frick Collection, New York. The materials and handling suggest this picture may have been painted in Italy or Austria in the early seventeenth century.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 106 Read entry

    Sir Thomas More joined the household of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth Palace as a boy, before studying at Canterbury College, Oxford, and then returning to London to study law. He became part of an intellectual community of scholars, which included Desiderius Erasmus, and wrote and translated works throughout his career. His most popularly known book, Utopia, was first published in 1516 with the intention of encouraging the reform of English politics. The dialogues satirised European society and included the famous description of the newly discovered island of Utopia – a name derived from the Greek for 'nowhere'. The argument that statesmen need to adopt an indirect approach in order to steer policy, in a manner 'that adapts itself to the play in hand', is one of the defining precepts of humanist political philosophy. More became Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor in 1529 and was executed in 1535 for his refusal to swear to the Act of Succession; he was canonised by the Catholic Church in 1935. This is a highly accomplished copy of Hans Holbein the Younger's portrait of More, which survives in the Frick Collection, New York. It shows the sitter as a statesman, wearing a Collar of Esses, rather than as a scholar, seated in his study. The portrait was one of Holbein's first commissions in England and came about through a letter of introduction to More from Erasmus, whom Holbein had painted in a number of portraits in Basel.

  • 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. 39
  • MacLeod, Catherine, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection at Montacute House, 1999, p. 10
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 440
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 229
  • Van der Stock, Jan, In search of Utopia : art and science in the era of Thomas More, 2016 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 Oct. 2016-17 Jan. 2017), p. 87

Placesback to top

  • Place made: Austria (possibly Austria)
  • Place made: Italy (possibly Italy)

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1527back to top

Current affairs

King Henry VIII tries to obtain the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and sends envoys to the Pope to seek his support.
An Anglo-French alliance is made between King Henry VIII and Francis I of France.

Art and science

Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia, is painted by the German artist Hans Holbein the Younger

International

Rome sacked by imperial forces. Pope Clement VII is imprisoned and most of Italy falls under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Florence becomes a republic after the Medici rulers, nephews of Pope Clement VII, are exiled.

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