King Henry VIII
1 portrait on display at British Galleries, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
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)
The painting was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1904 in a sale at Christie’s. The earliest known owner was Arthur O. S. Cave of Rossbrin Manor, West Carberry.
This painting is a version of a pre-Holbein portrait type of Henry VIII. Although the Holbein image still dominates as the most widespread likeness of Henry VIII, there were several other portrait types produced during his lifetime by other artists or workshops.
Notes on likely authorship
It is not possible to identify the artist who painted this portrait, but from stylistic analysis a native Anglo-Netherlandish workshop appears likely. Face patterns of Henry VIII may have circulated amongst workshops at the time of production.
Strong suggests that the portrait was produced by the same workshop as Edward IV NPG 3542 and Henry VI NPG 2457 (Strong, 1969, p.156) but technical analysis has shown they are distinctively different in technique and handling, and seem to derive from separate workshops.
Commentary on painting style, technique
The painting is characteristic of some Netherlandish influences, but may still be by a native English workshop as cross-fertilization of artistic technique clearly occurs at this date. Overall the handling is delicate with some very fine brushwork. The broad diagonal brushstrokes of the fairly thickly applied, lead-based priming are visible beneath the paint in places (for example, in the face, through the left eyebrow, in the lower part of the red tunic and the bottom of fur on the right-hand side).
The green background is thicker than other areas and is painted in two layers: an opaque mixture of verdgris and white lead with copper resinate glaze applied over it; a method used in many backgrounds of the period. The orange/brown 'halo' around the head and hat, and along the top of the shoulders, seems to be discoloured medium.
Some areas suggest that the artist was working with magnification. For example, where individual hairs can be seen at the edge of the hat, some of the black paint has been flicked downwards into the hair. There are also some white strokes amongst these which are very precise and only visible under the microscope.
Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. The oak used is a Baltic wood. Analysis of the wooden panel by dendrochronology revealed that the wood derives from a tree which was felled after 1512.
Drawing and transfer technique
Infrared reflectography revealed some underdrawing, this can be seen:
- as curved strokes for beard hairs at the right jaw-line
- in the left part of the forehead (although these marks could be paint below the surface)
- as sketchy lines at the inner edge of the left lapel
- possibly in the lower ‘puff’ in the left section of dark tunic
- extensively in the right cuff, start of sleeve, and lower part of fur jacket
- at the left little finger
- possibly at the far left edge of the hat (a line indicating that the hat outline might have been further to the left)
More underdrawing is probably present but has been obscured by dark paint. Infrared reflectography also revealed dark spots of damage or restoration, particularly in the cast shadow in the background and in the red tunic.
Relevance to other known versions
A smaller version is in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries. There are many areas of similarity between these two versions but each has minor differences. The feather and hat are of very similar style, the costume and face appear to use the same face pattern (though on a different scale) and the lead-based priming of both was applied fairly thickly, which makes the x-rays appear opaque. The handling is quite similar in both with very fine brushstrokes joining the hat and hair and a similar ‘dab and twist’ brushwork technique is employed in the collar. They may have been produced from a standard pattern and possibly in the same workshop. Society of Antiquaries, LDSAL 333; Scharf XXXIV
Other versions include:
- NPG 3638
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, OB4.1962
- Hever Castle
The portrait type of NPG 1376, Society of Antiquaries 333 and New South Wales versions display some relation to the portrait by Joos van Cleve in the Royal Collection.
Alberge, Dalya, 'Art Dealer finds Henry's Human Side', The Times, 8th June 2004
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp. 156-161
Christie's, 22nd January 1881, Co. Cork Sale (lot 120)
Christie's 7th March 1898, Whitehead Sale (lot 6)
Christie's 25th June 1904 (lot 38)
Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor, National Portrait Gallery, 1890 (no. 428)
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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.
The panel has a slight convex warp and some damages to the corners and edges (see Support). It is stable, although fragile. There is a network of craquelure over the whole surface, and some more prominent cracks along the wood grain. In the background in the top left some of these more prominent cracks look like they might have blistered. The general craquelure is uneven and raised in places because of protrusions - probably lead soaps - pushing up from lower in the structure (see micro 16 and micro 19). These protrusions are visible all over the painting as spots and lumps, particularly in the darker areas. The flesh paint is quite abraded. There is an old, repaired damage in the centre near the lower edge, which has a smoother texture. No new losses. There has been widespread retouching and restoration. An even, fairly thick varnish covers the painting to the edges of the panel. The gold leaf is very damaged, and most decoration over the gold has almost completely gone.
In 1996 J. Archbold noted the large restored damage at the lower centre and thought that some of the blacks might have been reinforced. She also noted that there is a damage in the collar which is repaired with gold leaf that does not match.
In addition to this, the 2008 observation notes that there is some overpaint in the red tunic, mostly in the lower, more pinkish section. There are isolated spots over the rest of the tunic, covering damages that can be seen very clearly using infrared reflectography (see Infrared reflectography). Much of the restoration is visible over the varnish in ultra violet light (see Ultra violet).
Number of boards: 2
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
A strip of linen has been glued over the panel join on the back. The edges are very thin, brittle and fragile. A band of paint is present at the top of the back of the panel. Some of this is bright yellow, and has various letters and numbers stencilled over it (see Frame).
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: 1504
For analysis the two boards were labelled A and B from the left (from the front). Visual inspection suggested that both boards came from the same tree. A 357-year sequence was recovered from the lower edge of board A; this is an unusually long and slow growing series. No sapwood was present at the outermost edge of the board and so a terminus post quem date can be applied. Comparison with eastern Baltic reference data found that the date of the last heartwood ring is 1504 and adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggested that the tree used for board A, and probably for board B, was felled after 1512. Board A is 292 mm wide and this is a typical width of boards seen in panel paintings. As this picture is undated and board A does not seem to have been significantly trimmed prior to use, it is suitable to apply an Eastern Baltic 8-40 year LEHR- usage range to this panel; this gives a conjectural usage-date range of 1512-1544.
The version of this painting owned by the Society of Antiquaries was examined as part of the project and found to be very similar in terms of painting technique. Dendrochronological analysis was carried out on that painting's panel, which is a single board 11 mm thick. It was found to be oak with matches to reference samples from London, the South-East and East Anglian areas of England. The conjectural usage-date range obtained was 1507-1543.
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 image is fairly light and opaque, and therefore does not yield much detail. Its appearance indicates that there is a substantial amount of lead white in the priming layer, and this is absorbing the x-rays. The opacity of the x-ray can be compared to the x-ray of the version of Henry VIII at the Society of Antiquaries, which appears to have a similarly thick priming. Lead white and lead-tin yellow details such as the hat, collar, cuffs, shirt and jacket decoration can be seen on the x-ray. No pentimenti are visible, but the fingers seem to have fairly loose brushstrokes different from those seen elsewhere in the painting, and could have some early restoration (see x-ray mosaic 01).
There is a horizontal line across the x-ray image, running just under the sitter's nose, above which the image appears light. This equates to a band of paint on the back of the panel. The filler in the large damage in the centre of the lower half of the painting, and a spot equating to a non-original piece of gilding on the surface in the collar, can clearly be seen in the x-ray image.
Dowels holding the two boards of the panel together can be seen level with the hand on the right, and level with where the forehead meets the hat.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Examination using infrared reflectography revealed some underdrawing, although more is probably present, obscured by dark paint (see IRR mosaic 01).
Underdrawing can be seen:
- as small curved strokes for beard hairs at the jawline on the left.
- in the right part of the forehead.
- as sketchy lines at the inner edge of the lapel on the right.
- in the lower 'puff' in the section of the dark tunic on the right.
- extensively in the cuff on the left, start of sleeve, and lower part of the fur jacket (these marks were probably drawn freehand, finishing off a design from a basic pattern).
- at the little finger of the hand on the right (there is no underdrawing visible in the cuff here, probably because the paint contains more black).
- at the far left edge of the hat - a line indicating that the hat outline might have been further to the left.
Infrared reflectography also shows lots of dark spots of damage/restoration - particularly in the shadow cast in the background, and in the red tunic.
The broad brushstrokes of the cushion (or cloth) in the foreground can be seen clearly with infrared reflectography, whereas they are not as distinctive in visible light.
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.
A thick chalk ground has been applied to the panel to prepare it for painting. This is visible in cross-sections and in small damages across the painting. On top of the ground is a priming layer which has been applied fairly thickly and is mainly composed of lead white. In sample 2 a particle of red pigment was found in this layer which may indicate that the priming was a very pale pink. In 1996, a sample taken by Catherine Hassall found a lead white priming with some red lead particles.
It is probable that the extensive pitting of the surface is due to lead soaps formed because of the lead white priming layer. However, it was not possible to establish why it has happened so much to this particular painting.
Flesh paint and eyes
Azurite has been used in the whites and irises of the eyes and in the flesh paint, but it has not been used elsewhere in the painting.
Head and hat
Sample 2 confirmed that the yellow decoration in the upper part of the hat contains fine yellow ochre painted over the black of the hat.
During micro-examination it was observed that the sleeves are a mixture of earth colours, and the linear decoration is lead-tin yellow mixed with a little vermilion for contrast. The decoration on the slashes and lapels uses the same mixture.
Background and foreground
Sample 3 showed that the background was painted with verdigris (a copper green pigment), suggesting that the background was originally a much brighter green.
Sample 5, taken from the table/cushion, contained several layers and pigments which makes it difficult to say what the original intention for this area was:
- Ground and priming.
- An unexplained small orange section at the far left of the sample.
- Deep green glaze.
- Translucent reddish substance - this might be a copper green glaze turning brown, or a reddish glaze. If the latter, this area would have been varied in colour, possibly with a 'shot' effect, although it is not possible to tell.
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 has been executed with a variety of brushstrokes to create the textural effects. The technique is quite delicate with some very fine brushwork in the flesh and fur. A characteristic technique used to depict individual hairs at the edge of the hat appears to have been painted with the aid of magnification. To create individual hairs at the edge of the hat, some black paint has been flicked downwards from the hat into the hair and there are also white strokes amongst these. This is only visible under the microscope. Another notable technique is the 'dab and twist' method used in the collar of the white shirt where the lead white was applied with a short brush, dabbed on and twisted as the brush is drawn up. Similiar techniques were observed in the closely related version in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries, and the white collar of another portrait of Henry, NPG 3638, is painted with the 'dab and twist' technique.
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground, and there is a barbe at the edges, where the ground flowed against the sight edge of the engaged frame (see Frame).
The broad diagonal brushstrokes of the priming layer are visible beneath the paint in places - in the face, through the eyebrow on the right; in the lower part of the red tunic and at the bottom of the fur on the right-hand side. The priming layer contains lead white and the surface of the painting is covered in small spots and lumps (see micro 19), which seem to be lead soap protrusions (see Paint sampling). The presence of lead white in this layer was also indicated by the x-ray (see X-ray). This priming layer was probably intended to be a pale pink, as some red particles were found (see Paint sampling).
Some underdrawing is visible through the paint, in the forehead above the eye on the right, in the ball of the hand on the right (see micro 09), in the cuff on the left (see micro 07), and in the beard (see micro 06). It is difficult to assess the drawing medium because the texture of the lines is obscured by the surface paint, but is likely to be liquid (see Infrared reflectography).
Paint layer structure
Flesh and eyes
Vermilion, charcoal and azurite are present in the flesh paint. Azurite can be seen in the irises and the whites of the eyes under high magnification (see micro 01 and micro 03). These are the only occurrences of azurite in this painting.
The hat seems to have been painted after or at the same time as the hair, into a reserve left for it in the background. Although the paint appears very dense and solid, it does not seem to have been reinforced or overpainted. The two different types of decoration on the hat seem to employ two different yellow pigments: the decoration on the upper part contains yellow ochre (see micro 14), confirmed by analysis (see Paint sampling), while the light spots on the lines decorating the rest of the hat contain lead-tin yellow (see micro 13).
Where individual hairs can be seen at the edge of the hat, some of the black paint has been flicked downwards into the hair (see micro 17). There are also some white strokes amongst these. This was only visible under the microscope, which suggests that the artist was working with magnification. The same technical detail was seen on a painting belonging to the Society of Antiquaries, London (Scharf XXXV Way/Museum No. 333). Some of the beard hairs are painted wet-in-wet (see micro 16). Although it appears bluish in places, there is no blue pigment used in the feather plume. The blue tone is due to the black charcoal pigment used, and light layers being painted overlapping darker areas (see micro 15).
The white undershirt was applied over the gilded collar - the overlap is very visible (see micro 12). The collar of the white shirt looks to have been painted with a short, blunt brush. The paint has been dabbed on and the brush twisted, to create the ruff (see micro 18). This technique was also noted on NPG 3638 and Society of Antiquaries Scharf XXXV Way/Museum No. 333. Under the microscope, it could be seen that there is azurite and either red earth or red lead mixed into the white of the shirt. Blue particles are present in the shadows of the grey cuffs.
The tunic is painted with a red lake glaze - probably madder (see Ultra violet) - and the white slashes are painted over the red layer, firstly in white, then the black shadows/details added (see micro 20). The brown slashes in the black jacket seem to have been painted in a sequence of layers: a lower layer that could be the priming or an ochre-coloured layer laid in under the jacket, then a glaze layer on top, also creating the shadows. The finely painted decorations are over this glaze. It seems that the underlayer was applied before the jacket was painted, and the glazes and decoration after it had been painted. The glaze does not cover the cracks, and so seems to be original. There is an unexplained red blob/protrusion in the lapel of the jacket on the left.
The paint used for the hatched decoration on the sleeves contains lead-tin yellow. The hatched patterns are painted with lines crossing each other while still wet, dragging some of the paint across the surface (see micro 10 and micro 11). In places where the decorations appear pinkish, the lead-tin yellow has been mixed with vermilion (confirmed by analysis, see Paint sampling).
In the fur the priming shows through the upper layers to represent the lighter sections, and the darker sections are painted with directional brushstrokes in fairly transparent paint. The inner edge of the fur coat/cloak is also created by the painted outer edge of the black jacket: the outer line is deliberately jagged, to form the shapes of the undergarment visible between the fur hairs. The pointed hairs of the top of the fur coat are flicks of paint over the green background. Similar hairs are painted over the edges of the white shirt (see micro 12 and micro 16).
Foreground and hands
The foreground, where the hands rest, appears to be painted with a green layer with a dark red layer over it (see micro 21), although it is not clear what this red layer is (see Paint sampling).
The gold of the ring is not in the correct place for the position of the finger (see micro 08). It does not seem that the position of the finger has been changed, but this is not clear. The black jewel is painted over the gold.
The green background is thicker than other areas and is painted in at least two layers: a verdigris and lead white mixture glazed over with a dark copper green glaze (see Paint sampling). The orange/brown 'halo' around the head and hat, and along the top of the shoulders, seems to be a discoloured medium, associated with some of the painted areas.
Order of construction
- Pale pink priming
The order of application of the parts in certain sections can be ascertained, but not the order in which these sections were executed.
- Flesh paint
- Hat (might be at same time as hair)
- Gold (possibly laid in first, before the flesh paint and the rest of the section above)
- White collar and shirt
- Red tunic
- White 'puffs' in tunic - white, then grey and black details, then white highlights
- Brown lapels
- Brown sleeves
- Black jacket
- Glazes on brown 'puffs' and sleeves
- Lead-tin yellow decoration
Lead white, charcoal black, vermilion, red lead, red lake - possibly madder, verdigris, copper green glaze, azurite, yellow ochre, lead-tin yellow, earth pigments
Changes to composition/pentimenti
No pentimenti are visible on the surface with the naked eye.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
The varnish across the whole surface is opaque in ultra violet light, and the background appears very dark. In ultra violet light, spots of retouching can be seen over the whole surface, and there is a large patch of restoration in the face. The repaired damage in the lower centre is also visible as a dark patch. There is an opaque layer with yellow-green fluorescence on the hat. Libby Sheldon noted that the tunic paint might contain madder, as it fluoresces pink/orange (see Surface examination). Light patches are evident in the foreground section.
Frame date: Contemporary with painting.
The portrait was painted after the panel and frame were put together and had the ground applied.
Sixteenth-century, restored oak frame. Originally an engaged frame, but the grooves have been cut away at the back. Painted black, with gilded inner moulding (at sight edge). The texture of the surface shows losses in the layers beneath, and the gilding is very worn and dirty. The outer edges are quite damaged, but there are no recent losses and no rough areas. The corners are mitred lap joints, and the tops of old dowels can be seen at all four corners on the front. The one in the lower-right corner is slightly loose.
The original hanging holes are present at the top edge. There are also lots of wormholes and holes from old fittings. There are traces of yellow paint (see below) on the back, equating to that on the back of the panel (see Support).
Analysis of six paint samples from the frame was carried out in 1996 (Catherine Hassall). This found that the frame had been decorated in three bands:
- inner border: gold leaf
- flat central band: rich, reddish decoration, perhaps imitation tortoiseshell. Red ochre glazed with a reddish oil-based layer
- outer moulding: black (lamp black) glazed with a clear, resin-based layer
Yellow paint on the back of the frame was found to contain chalk and orpiment.
The 1996 analysis also found that the frame had been restored several times and had the current nineteenth-century graining and gold over varnished black (three different layers), over gilding, and a type of graining.
See this portrait
On display at British Galleries, Victoria & Albert Museum, London