Anne Boleyn

1 portrait on display in Room 1 at the National Portrait Gallery

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Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

Anne Boleyn

by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, late 16th century, based on a work of circa 1533-1536
21 3/8 in. x 16 3/8 in. (543 mm x 416 mm)
NPG 668

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This is a late sixteenth-century copy after a portrait of Anne Boleyn that was likely produced when she was queen.

This portrait was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery from the Reynolds Galleries in 1882. The previous history of the painting is unknown.

Historical context
This is a version of the standard painted portrait type of Anne Boleyn, which probably derives from a portrait taken from the life whilst she was queen between 1533 and 1536, and which is now lost.

Notes on attribution
The portrait was most likely produced as part of a larger set depicting English monarchs and, despite the large amount of restoration, appears to be English in style and technique.

Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work produced in the late sixteenth century. Dendrochronological analysis showed that the tree used to make the wooden panel support was felled after 1584.

The two board panel has been significantly thinned and has also suffered woodworm damage. A fixed secondary support, which was causing stress in the panel, was removed in 2011. There is considerable restoration across the paint surface and this makes it difficult to determine the quality of the original in many areas; for example, the black costume, brown sleeves and headdress are almost entirely overpainted with a thin glaze. There is also considerable overpaint in the background and the inscription, which appears to have been painted with vermilion, has suffered abrasion and been reinforced.

Painting technique
The flesh paint and jewels, which are largely original, display some fine brushwork and subtle painting techniques, including wet-in-wet blending. Orpiment was used in various areas: on the highlights of the gold inner part of the headdress; on the gold neck chain; on the letter ‘B’; and on the gold details on the costume neckline. Orpiment was widely available and was used in Elizabethan miniatures and, although it is unusual to find it used in place of lead-tin yellow, it is not significant for dating the painting.

A band of red was noticed beneath the paint surface, across the lower part of the painting. The red appears to be very similar to the red used in the original inscription and may be evidence of an original border round all four sides of the painting. It is possible that this could relate to the picture's role in a set of portraits. There is some evidence that the panel has been reduced in size along the other three sides.

Drawing and transfer technique
The portrait was evidently made using a pattern and infrared reflectography shows underdrawing in carbon black. The underdrawing closely follows the painted outlines. In some areas the underdrawing can be seen under the thinly applied flesh paint and plays a part in defining the features.

Other known versions
Versions of the standard painted portrait of Anne Boleyn can be found in the following collections:
- NPG 4980(15) (previously in the collection of the Duke of Leeds at Hornby Castle)
- Hever Castle
- Royal Collection - part of a set, RCIN404742
- Deanery, Ripon - two versions, one of which is part of a set
- Dulwich Picture Gallery - part of a set, DPG534

Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp. 5-7

Exhibition history
'Les Tudors', Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2015


Micro 01. Detail of the eye on the left (7.1…
Micro 02. Detail of the eye on the right (7.1…
Micro 03. Detail of the nose, showing underdr…
Micro 04. Detail of lips, showing brushwork,…
Micro 05. Detail of the edge of the neck, jew…
Micro 07. Detail of the hair (7.1 x mag).
Micro 08. Detail of the edge of the head and…
Micro 09. Detail of the inscription, with res…
Micro 10. Detail of flesh (32 x mag).
Micro 11. Detail of the monogram pendant (7.1…
Micro 13. Detail of pearls on the bodice (7.1…
Micro 15. Detail of orpiment in the headdress…
Micro 16. Detail of pearls beneath the monogr…
Micro 17. Detail of the gold chain, showing w…
Micro 18. Detail of the red boarder beneath o…
Micro 19. Detail of the edge of the cuff and…
UV 01. Front of the panel in ultra violet lig…
Raking 01. Image of the painting taken in rak…
Detail 01. Detail of the face.
Detail 04. Detail of the monogram pendant.

Compare Images (what's this?)

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Compare high-resolution images against the painting - mainly x-ray and infra-red photography images, but sometimes UV or raking light images - side by side with the ability to zoom in on details.

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2010: The two board panel has been significantly thinned and cradled with a fixed secondary support, and woodworm channels have been exposed on the reverse of the panel as a result of thinning. An oak addition, approximately 20 cm wide, has been attached to the left edge (from the front) and the split down the centre of the panel has been repaired. A more recent split has occurred in the original panel, approximately 3 cm into the picture plane from the lower edge. The split is clearly evident in x-ray and has occurred as a result of the secondary support's prevention of the natural movement of the wood. Due to the thin nature of the wood, the woodworm channels, and the presence of the recent split , the panel is in a vulnerable and unstable condition. Vertical cracking has occurred at regular points to the right of each of the vertical cradle members, along the lower edge. Some minor paint loss has occurred where the wood has split along the lower edge. Much of the restoration, particularly down the old split, is mismatched.

In 2011 the cradle was removed, the splits in the support were secured, and the panel was allowed to take up its natural curvature before being reframed in a climate buffered frame with scribed spacers.


Support type: Oak

Number of boards: 2

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The panel has been significantly thinned, exposing numerous woodworm channels on the reverse. A fixed cradle, attached in 1967, appears to be causing structural problems. A split has opened along the lower edge, to the right of the far left vertical cradle member (from the front). The split is situated 60 mm from the left -hand edge and extends approximately 120 mm into the picture plane. The split is open and requires consolidation. There is a slight convex distortion in the centre of the panel, to the left of the old split (see raking 01). This appears to be associated with restraint from the vertical cradle member on the reverse immediately adjacent to it. Further vertical cracks have formed in the paint layer alongside the vertical cradle members.

Dendrochronology (what's this?)


An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.

Number of boards: 2

Last date of tree ring: 1576


The panel is constructed of two vertically aligned oak boards of unequal size, and there is a narrow softwood fillet at the left edge. The boards were labelled A and B from the left (from the front) Board A had sufficient rings for analysis, but was a tangential section. When originally examined in 2010 the thinness of the tangential section and the presence of a heavy cradle combined to make the panel too awkward to analyse.

In 2012, following conservation treatment and the removal of the cradle, the outer edges of board A were measured at both ends. No sapwood was present and a terminus post quem can therefore be applied to the panel. The ring sequence matched against eastern Baltic reference data and the last heartwood ring was dated to 1576. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggests that this board was derived from a tree felled after c. 1584. Board A is the width of a typical eastern Baltic board, which suggests that it has not been significantly trimmed. It is therefore appropriate to apply an eastern Baltic LEHR-usage range to the panel, which provides a conjectural usage-date of c. 1584-1616. Board B was not analysed.

X-radiography (what's this?)


A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.

The x-ray shows a number of changes to the outline of the sitter's face and shoulder (see x-ray mosaic 01). During the painting process the left side of the face was reduced in size from the original fuller composition. The shoulderline on the left was also originally slightly higher and reduced at an early stage. The cradle, the old and new splits and the two joins are clearly evident in x-ray. Areas of damage and filled losses can be seen. Broad brushstrokes associated with the thinly applied lead-based priming are visible.

Infrared reflectography (what's this?)

Infra-Red Reflectographyclose

A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.

Using infrared reflectography, underdrawing was noted in the face, hair, costume and jewels (see IRR mosaic 01). The underdrawing in the face, hair and headdress is relatively broadly applied and corresponds closely to the painted outline, suggesting a pattern was used to transfer the drawing onto the prepared panel. The underdrawing appears to have been carried out using liquid medium and a brush. The underdrawn outline for the neck and shoulders is finer, more freely executed and shows evidence of minor changes. The position of the pearls and gold chain were drawn with single lines, with individual pearls and the 'B' monogram outlined. The position of the gold chain was altered between the drawing and painting stages. The red boarder present along the lower edge and the wooden addition along the left edge are also visible using infrared reflectography, as is the considerable paint loss present in the background and cuffs.

Paint sampling (what's this?)

Paint Samplingclose

Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.

Paint samples were taken to analyse the pigments and layer structure of the painting in June 2010. It is a little difficult to distinguish between original paint and later additions.

Preparation layers
The panel was prepared with a thick chalk ground and there is a grey priming layer over the ground.

Black underdrawing
Sample 4: In dispersion the black of the underdrawing appears to be graphite, from its intensity and slight sheen in reflected light.

Sample 2: In dispersion the black embroidery on the edge of the dress appears to be lamp black.
Sample 3: In dispersion the yellow gold decoration on the edge of the bodice appears to be orpiment as in sample 1, with the same rod-like form.
Sample 6: In dispersion the brown fur cuff contains a similar pigment, with clear rods, to sample 3

Brown fur sleeve
Sample 6: Cross-section shows the grey priming, a yellow layer with rod-like particles and a mixed brown layer on top which contains red particles.

Sample 1: Cross-section of the green at the lower right between the body and arm, shows the grey priming with two layers of red paint with the green on top. The yellow in the green has the appearance of a more recent synthetic pigment with a rod-like form, but comparison with the yellow found in the fur sleeve suggested that it is original, and is either a yellow ochre or orpiment.
Sample 7: Dispersion from the green layers in the upper background shows that the upper layer is a complex mix of yellow lake (perhaps Indian yellow), perhaps verdigris, and another yellow perhaps chrome. Some of this layer appears to be later retouching.
Sample 8: Dispersion from the green background shows that the lower layer in the green contained green earth.

Red inscription
Sample 5: Cross-section shows the chalk ground and the grey priming. Over this there appear to be two brownish red layers of background paint. Both appear relatively transparent with red, yellow and black particles suspended in the medium. The inscription above contains vermilion with a little red lake. Dispersion reveals yellow lake which might explain the translucency. Red ochre particles can be seen in the paint mixture.

Surface examination (what's this?)

Surface Examinationclose

An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.

Painting style and method
Due to the level of restoration present, the quality of the original paint is difficult to determine in many areas. The flesh paint and jewels are largely original and display some fine brushwork and subtle painting technique. The original paint layers are thin, with thicker passages in areas of highlight. Traditional pigments and some fine wet-in-wet blending were used.

Preparation layers
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground and a pale priming above; the priming layer is primarily composed of lead white. Carbon black underdrawing was then applied above the priming with a brush and liquid medium.

The face appears to have been painted first. The thinly applied paint layers were applied above the pale priming and the dark underdrawing plays a role in defining the features (see detail 01). The black underdrawing is exposed at the surface in a number of areas where abrasion has occurred to the flesh (see micro 03). The underdrawing has the appearance of a sparkly black. The flesh paint was thinly applied and is composed of a mixture of lead white, charcoal black, vermilion, red lake and some yellow ochre (see micro 10). Despite the abrasion that has occurred, it is likely that the prominent underdrawing would have always played a role in defining the outline of the features.

The eyes were drawn first, with thin paint applied above. A thin brown glaze was used to define the eyes, although much of this has been abraded, exposing the underdrawing at the surface. The thin medium-rich brown appears to be the same as that used for the hair; this is composed of a mixture of earth pigments, black and red lake. The pupils appear to have been painted with a similar mixture, although these have been heavily reinforced with restoration. A high proportion of red lake and vermilion was observed in the tear ducts. The whites of the eyes are a pale mixed grey, primarily composed of lead white, with a little black, red and yellow ochre (see micro 01 and micro 02).

The hair was thinly painted after the face and costume were applied, using a mixture of earth pigments, red lake and black (see micro 07). Much of the hair has been glazed with non-original restoration, making a thorough interpretation of this area problematic.

Before the blackwork on the costume was painted, the gold chain, 'B' monogram and pearl necklace were applied above the flesh (see detail 04). The gold was painted using yellow ochre and a little red lake and the highlights were then added using orpiment. The orpiment pigment has very large and distinctive particles (see micro 11, micro 15 and micro 17). The pearls were painted using a mixture of lead white, black and a little red. The paint is more thickly applied for the highlights, with a higher proportion of lead white (see micro 05, micro 13 and micro 16).

Costume and headdress
The bodice and sleeves were painted at an early stage, after the face was laid in, directly above the pale priming. This was followed by the flesh on the neck and chest, and the painting of the embroidered and jewelled neckline to the costume. It appears that the headdress was also painted at this stage and includes ochre and orpiment for highlights on the gold inner part. The highlights on gold details on the costume neckline were painted with the same pigments. Orpiment was widely available and was used in Elizabethan miniature painting and, although it is unusual to find it replacing lead-tin yellow in the way it was used in the portrait of Anne Boleyn, it does not indicate a later date.

The blackwork detail on the bodice was applied when the flesh and grey neckline paint was still wet with a soft, fine brush and black and transparent red pigments. The layer structure and pigments used in the black costume are difficult to decipher due to the high level of restoration present. Examination in ultra violet light, x-radiography and surface examination have shown that the black costume and headdress have been almost entirely repainted with a thin 'glaze', and a considerable amount of cloudy varnish is present throughout (see Ultra violet and X-ray). The cuffs have been more or less entirely overpainted. A small area of original brown fur paint can be seen at the edge of the cuff and black sleeve on the right. What remains of the original fur has the appearance of a thin semi-transparent red/brown glaze, applied above the pale priming. In addition, some original opaque ochre fur is visible in this area, which was thinly applied and brushed over the black sleeve with a stiff brush. The original opaque fur appears to be composed of a mixture of yellow ochre, black and red (see micro 19). During the examination process, an interesting red band was noted across the lower edge of the painting (see micro 18). This is approximately 2.5 cm in height, and extends to the edges beneath the upper paint layers. Microscopic examination indicates that the red used (perhaps red lead) is very similar to that seen in the original inscription and it seems that an abraded red lake glaze is present above this opaque layer. This slightly raised band of red is also visible in raking light, and may be evidence of an original border present around all four edges of the panel. There is some evidence that the panel has been reduced in size along the other three edges (see Support).

The background has been subject to comprehensive overpainting, with more recent restorations above. When viewed with microscopy small areas of abraded original green background can be seen under the sitter's arms and in the upper right quadrant of the painting. The original mixed green is composed of a translucent dull green earth, red lake, black and some yellow ochre (see micro 08). The green background was painted above a warm, pale pink/brown underlayer, composed of lead white, black and earth pigments. The background is also heavily restored with more recent green, which is paler in tone than both the original and non-original green layers. A considerable amount of abrasion and loss was noted in the original green background. The texture and apparent condition of the surface suggests the background may have been largely scraped back prior to the first repainting.

The original inscription appears to have been painted with vermilion above the background. This is heavily abraded and significantly reinforced with restoration (see micro 09). The first two letters of 'Anna' are non-original and are part of the non-original addition along the left-hand edge.

Order of construction
- Chalk ground
- Pale priming
- Face
- Black bodice, sleeves and headdress
- Hair
- Underlayer to background
- Green background
- Flesh in neck and chest
- Pale grey neckline to bodice
- Pearl necklace
- Gold chain, jewels, monogram pendant and gold detail on headdress
- Blackwork embroidery and detail on bodice

Lead white, charcoal black, vermilion, red lake, red ochre, green earth, verdigris, earth pigments, orpiment

Changes in composition/pentimenti
Minor alterations were made to the profile of the face and the shoulder on the left during the painting process (see x-ray mosaic 01. Prior to the changes being made, the face and shoulder were wider than can be seen today (see X-ray.

Restoration observations
Large portions of the painting have been heavily restored and overpainted. A wholescale glaze can be found over the black costume and headdress, and the cuffs have been almost entirely repainted. Most of the hair has been glazed and the original inscription has been heavily reinforced. The background has been completely overpainted, leaving very little original visible on the surface. The first, wholescale layer of restoration was thickly applied over the background and covers old losses and abrasion to the original paint. The restoration in the background has characteristic drying craquelure. More recent paler restoration can be seen above this in the background. The split down the centre of the panel has been restored. The restoration down this split is mismatched and is paler and more yellow in tone than the surrounding original paint.

Ultra violet examination (what's this?)

Ultra Violetclose

A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.

The painting has very thick varnish layers which fluoresce green under ultra violet light and have a very opaque appearance (see UV 01). Old retouchings are difficult to see beneath the varnish. Later retouchings are visible as dark passages on top of the varnish layer and are located along the panel join, in the upper left-hand corner of the background and smaller scattered areas across the panel.


Frame type: Not original. Ebonised Tudor-style frame with gilt sight edge

Frame date: 20th century