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King Henry VI

1 of 39 portraits of King Henry VI

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King Henry VI

by Unknown English artist
oil on panel, circa 1540
12 1/2 in. x 10 in. (318 mm x 254 mm)
NPG 2457


New attribution: Unknown English artist

Key findings: Original dating confirmed. Red underdrawing (either chalk or paint) has been identified on the hands and face. The authorship can be confirmed as the same workshop as Edward IV (NPG 3542) and portraits of the same sitters at the Society of Antiquaries and in the Government Art Collection.

Historical summary
Purchased in 1930 from Frederick Yates. Previous history uncertain but possibly from either Bostock Hall, Rushton Hall, or Bladen Castle, the seats of the Bostock, Buxton and Haworth families respectively.

The painting was produced towards the end of Henry VIII’s reign, circa 1530s-1540s, and may have been part of a series of kings and queens, or possibly one of a pair. Several other paintings of kings have been identified from the same workshop, including Edward IV (NPG 3542). The painting has an engaged frame which is still intact and the patron would have purchased the portrait and frame as a single item.

Notes on likely authorship
The work is inscribed HENRICVS VI on either side of the head. It derives from an English workshop and was painted by several different painters working in the same studio.

Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
The analysis has revealed many areas of restoration, particularly in the dark red shadow on the left-hand side of the background. Under ultra violet light the varnish was observed as being thick, opaque and rather uneven (see Ultra violet). Magnification revealed clearly a discoloured varnish layer on the tunic as well as a colour discrepancy. The apparently green tunic is, in fact, composed principally of blue pigment (there are possible remnants of a copper green glaze over the azurite - see micro 11).

Different techniques were used for different sections of the painting with the hair being created with small sharp brushstrokes (see micro 05), smooth brushstrokes for the flesh and the decorative detail in the tunic being created by small point or quill. (See also report for (NPG 3542) for more on painting style as both paintings derive from the same studio.) There is extensive use of gold leaf (see micro 06).

Justification for dating
It was not possible to analyse the wooden panel by dendrochronology. Stylistically the paint handling dates from the 1530s-1540s.

Drawing and transfer technique
During surface examination it was thought that some red underdrawing could be seen along the right-hand white band in the tunic, white cuff (see micro 12) and possibly the ear. This red underdrawing did not show up in infrared reflectography as red does not absorb infrared radiation. It may be red chalk or red paint.

Using x-ray, broad brushstrokes were evident in the underlayer as well as the background paint. It is possible to see changes along the left side of the hat, right cheek and in the hat.

Relevance to other known versions
There is no authentic portrait from life of Henry VI but the existence of many posthumous copies that all follow roughly the same pattern suggests that a life painting did once exist. The earliest known version is in the Royal Collection RCIN403442 and dates from 1504-20 (recorded in a 1542 inventory) but NPG 2457 differs from this painting in relation to a looseness of treatment and some aspects of the composition, particularly in the costume. The surviving versions closest to NPG 2457 are in the Government Art Collection 339 and at the Society of Antiquaries LDSAL 330; Scharf XVIand it is possible that these paintings were produced in the same workshop.

Other versions:
- Burlington House, Society of Antiquaries of London, LDSAL 330; Scharf XVI
- Government Art Collection, 339

Less closely related versions:
- Royal Collection, RCIN403442
- NPG 546
- Eton College (several versions) - founder portrait
- Stolen from King's College, Cambridge in 1981 - founder portrait
- All Souls, Oxford - founder portrait
- Syon House (Duke of Northumberland, formerly at Albury) - part of set
- Hatfield House (Marquess of Salisbury, two versions) - probably from sets
- Hardwick Hall (National Trust) - probably from a set NT 1129170
- The Deanery, Ripon - part of set
- Longleat (Marquess of Bath) - part of a set
- Sudeley Castle
- Welbeck (Duke of Portland)
- At Weiss Gallery in November 1995 (earliest known provenance: Marwell Hall, near Winchester)
- Leathersellers' Company - from a set
- Warwick Shire Hall, 32
- Dulwich Picture Gallery, DPG529

Daunt, Catherine, 'Portrait Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England', unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sussex, 2015
Exhibition illustrative of Early English Portraiture, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1909, p.72, (No. 9)
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.146-8
Tudor-Craig, Pamela, Richard III, National Portrait Gallery, 1973, p.87


IRR mosaic 01. Infrared reflectogram mosaic o…
Micro 01. Blue pigments in the tunic (100 x m…
Micro 02. Detail of sleeve (right side), show…
Micro 03. Eye (right side) (10 x mag).
Micro 04. Eyebrow (right side) with restorati…
Micro 05. Detail of the hair (7.1 x mag).
Micro 06. Detail of top of gold collar, over…
Micro 07. Detail of the gold cross, with rest…
Micro 08. Detail of finger with the paint for…
Micro 09. Detail of the ring (7.1 x mag).
Micro 10. Top of the chain, showing technique…
Micro 11. Showing the technique of scoring or…
Micro 12. Detail of white cuff, showing the r…
Micro 13. Gold chain (7.1 x mag).
Micro 14. Top right-hand edge of gold collar,…
Micro 15. Background showing the blackening o…
Micro 17. Detail of the dark paint for the tu…
Micro 18. The edge of the tunic feathered ove…
Micro 19. The letter 'E' from the word 'Henry…
Micro 20. Gold lettering on frame (7.1 x mag)…

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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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The paint and ground are secure. There is a slightly raised, fine craquelure throughout, some of which follows the vertical wood grain. This appears secure. There is a considerable amount of abrasion to the paint along the strip of shadow in the red background on the left-hand side.

Small areas of matt, gritty, discoloured restoration can be seen all over the surface and within cracks in the flesh paint. There is considerable restoration in the dark red shadow on the left-hand side of the background, over abraded original paint.


Support type: Oak

Number of boards: 1

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The panel seems sound, with a slight convex warp. A few scattered woodworm holes are visible. The panel is loose in its engaged frame and it may have shrunk. A small section of wood has been removed from the lower right-hand corner of the frame on the reverse. This may have been taken out by Fletcher during his examination, in an attempt to remove the panel from its frame. Unevenly bevelled edges.

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: 1

Last date of tree ring: n/a


Dendrochronological analysis could not be carried out due to the presence of an engaged frame.

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.

Panel condition and additions
Vertical wood grain is evident in panel and frame in x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01). A number of old fixing holes are evident. Small areas of loss are visible - one in the sitter's lips and one at the knuckle of the thumb on the right, and a number in the cross and drapery. Broad brushstrokes of the priming are evident, as are the broad thicker brushstrokes of the background. Changes are visible along the side of the hat on the right and along the side of the cheek on the left (see Surface examination). Range and variety in the handling of brushstrokes is clearly visible in the x-ray.

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.

No underdrawing is evident in infrared reflectography on the panel or the frame, indicating that there is no underdrawing carried out with a carbon-based medium (see IRR mosaic 01). Red underdrawing was observed in normal light (see Surface examination).

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.

Preparation layers
The ground layer consists of a single layer of natural chalk. Above this, a pale pink priming was found in the cross-sections.

The deep red in the sleeve (sample 5) is painted with pure red lake over the priming layer. There may be a purplish layer in the lower parts of the costume, although this could be an optical effect with crimson lake and black. Blacks were identified in dispersion, but it is difficult to be sure how much of the sample taken at the left edge of the costume is original: most of the upper layers in this complex sample appear to be over-paint and dirty varnish.

The inner tunic was sampled (sample 4) just above the white cuff, and seems to be composed solely of azurite. The tunic appears dark green now, but it is possible that this and the dark line on the gold on the collar (also azurite) were originally blue. Analysis has located what appear to be remnants of a green glaze over the azurite, indicating that it would originally have had a final layer of this colour.

The unusual bright scarlet background paint provides a sharp foil to the dark paint of the figure. The texture is deliberately soft, with fibres dragged over the cuff with tiny brushes. It was thought that the red background might have blackened a little in the manner of degraded vermilion, since the areas outside the shadows appeared rather dark and patchy. Vermilion was identified as the principal red used in the background, with additions of red lake (identified in dispersion) in areas of shadow. Some brown (probably umber) was added to the lower layer in the shadows. Sample 1, from a darker area of the background, shows two layers of paint with vermilion and red lake, the upper layer containing a higher proportion of red lake. Red lake may have formed a glaze, or was mixed with the vermilion to achieve an extra dark red (see sample 1 and sample 2 from the red background). A dark substance is visible over the two red layers in sample 1 and this has another vermilion and lake layer over it.

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
The painting style is very simple. The naive linear style of some of the features can be compared with the portrait of Edward IV (NPG 3542) which appears to be from the same workshop.

Paint layer structure
Preparation layers
Along the right-hand edge of the right-hand white band in the tunic, a line of red underdrawing can be seen beneath the paint surface. It is not clear whether this is red chalk or a liquid medium. Further red underdrawing can also be seen in the white cuff (see micro 12) and possibly next to the ear. As red pigments do not absorb infrared radiation, this accounts for the lack of underdrawing in infrared (see Infrared reflectography).

After the preparation layers (chalk ground, priming, red underdrawing), the face and hands appear to have been painted first, followed by the hair and features (see micro 08 for layer structure). The flesh appears to be composed of lead white, vermilion, black, a little azurite, and possibly some ochre (visually identified with the microscope). The brushstrokes used in the flesh are smoothly blended.

Hair and eyes
The hair is created with the use of small sharp brushstrokes, and a particularly graphic approach can be seen in the linear application of paint in the sitter's eyelashes and eyebrows (see micro 03, micro 04, and micro 05). Azurite was mixed in to the whites of the eyes and used in the strongest highlight in the eye, which was added last (see micro 03).

The cuffs were painted wet-in-wet with very thin grey paint used for the fold detail and shadows (see micro 02). The flesh and white details were also painted wet-in-wet together.

An medium-rich brown with a little black was used to define details on the jewels. Detail was also achieved in the jewellery and gold collar by the application of red lake glaze over the gold leaf, and azurite and a green glaze were used over the gold to achieve the zig-zag decoration in the collar (see micro 07, micro 09, micro 10, micro 13).

There is a pink glaze on the sleeve, over white (see micro 17). The apparently green tunic is in fact composed entirely of blue pigment, identified as azurite (see micro 01 and Paint sampling). Although there is clearly a discoloured varnish layer on this tunic (which would increase the green appearance) it seems that an original green glaze may have been removed at some stage (see Paint Sampling Observations). The sleeves of the tunic are darker than the chest area. It appears that this was achieved by the addition of black and brown to the azurite paint. The decorative detail in the tunic was then made by incising with a small point or quill into the still-wet paint to expose the underlying preparation layer (see micro 11). The feathered highlights in the vertical strips in the green tunic, on either side of the crease, were made by leaving the ground exposed and brushing a little of the tunic glaze over. The soft pile of the tunic fabric is depicted by the green/blue fibres brushed over the edge of the pink sleeve and the white cuff (see micro 17 and micro 18).

The red background was painted last (see micro 14). Within the red background, the deterioration or blackening of vermilion pigment can be seen, creating a dark mottled appearance in some areas (see micro 14, micro 15 and Paint sampling).

Order of Construction
- Chalk ground.
- Pale pink priming layer (see Paint sampling).
- Red underdrawing.
- Face and hands.
- Hair and facial features.
- Gold leaf.
- White details, including cuffs and white strips down the tunic and collar.
- Jewels.
- Tunic.
- Red background.

Lead white, vermilion, azurite, probably a copper green glaze, red lake, carbon black, earth pigments, gold leaf

The gold lettering on the frame is very heavy and bold. This lettering is not original but appears to be strengthening existing lettering beneath (see Frame). A few small flecks of gold can be seen beneath the upper gold on the letter 'E' of Henry.

Changes in composition/pentimenti
There is a change in the line of the side of the hat on the right and along the side of the cheek on the left. The change in the hat can be seen in normal light.

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

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

There was little to note when the painting was examined in ultra violet. Generally the varnish was observed as being thick, opaque and rather uneven. Scattered small dark retouchings can be seen throughout. There are lots of carefully executed small dark retouchings across the whole surface. These show up as dark or purplish spots over the varnish and many are apparent in the hat (see UV 01). Libby Sheldon observed that the fluorescence of the sleeves was inconclusive, but the paint does not seem to contain madder.


Frame type: Original, engaged.

Frame date: c.1540


The original frame is engaged, with the single painted panel intact. Despite the presence of old damage to the wood in the lower right-hand corner (where some of the frame at the join was removed), the panel does not disengage from its frame.

The frame is now painted black with gold borders, as is the frame for Edward IV (NPG 3542). Both frames appear to have been restored twice but not at the same time. The black parts have been repainted twice and the gold regilded once. Parts have been touched up with gold paint.

In 2000 Catherine Hassall examined paint samples to determine the original layer structure. The results of this analysis are as follows:
- Chalk ground applied overall.
- Thin pink underlayer (lead white and finely ground vermilion) beneath gilding, but areas to be painted were left as clean white chalk.
- Oil-gilding used, applying gold leaf over a dark base of yellow ochre, red lead and lead white.
- The central fillet and innermost moulding is painted purple (azurite and dark red lake).
- Outer moulding painted with thin layer of pure carbon black. Where left exposed the red has faded to yellowish brown, and now appears green.
- The gold lettering covers unfaded red.
- The yellow base coat under the gold lettering is different from the base used on the gilded frame mouldings: the yellow is pale and there is some red lead.

The execution of the lettering is heavy compared with the fine lettering on the Edward IV (NPG 3542) frame, and it could be later (see micro 20). There is a trace of gold under the varnish next to the letter 'E' of 'Henry' which might be an earlier layer (see micro 19).

The outer moulding has been painted with very thin layer of carbon black. The decoration has deteriorated considerably: purple faded and gilding cracked and worn, and has been repainted. There is more gilding in the restoration than in original decoration, e.g. inner moulding now gilded. Black outer moulding is still painted black, but mixture contains undispersed lumps.

Similarly to the panel, nothing can be seen in infrared reflectography to suggest the use of any underdrawing or delineation of lines for the inscription.