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King Henry VIII

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King Henry VIII, by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist, circa 1535-1540 - NPG 3638 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

King Henry VIII

by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, circa 1535-1540
23 in. x 17 1/2 in. (584 mm x 445 mm)
NPG 3638


New attribution: Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist.

Key findings: A skilfully painted example of a portrait type that predates the Holbein cartoon and which was perhaps once more common.

Historical summary
This portrait of Henry VIII was presented to the Gallery by Sir Geoffrey Langdon Keynes in 1958. The previous owners were the Wombwell family of Newburgh Priory, Coxwold, Yorkshire. It is possible the painting was at Newburgh in the sixteenth century as the priory has descended in the same family since the dissolution of the monasteries and was first purchased by Henry VIII’s chaplain, Anthony de Bellasis. However, the painting could equally have been purchased by the later owners.

The portrait shows Henry VIII in his mid-to-late forties and offers an alternative impression of the king from the Holbein likeness made for the Whitehall cartoon in 1536-7. Here Henry appears half-length, facing the viewer with his head and eyes turned to the right. He wears a black bonnet with white feathers and a white shirt with gold collar, gold slashed tunic (probably once reddish gold) and a coat with a brown fur collar. Consistent features with other related non-Holbein portraits are his small eyes and mouth, long, and quite narrow, nose, reddish brown hair worn over the ears and reddish beard. As the Holbein likeness became dominant reasonably quickly, it would seem likely that the pattern for this portrait type predates the Whitehall cartoon.

Notes on likely authorship
It is not possible to identify the artist who painted this portrait but stylistically it appears to have been produced by an Anglo-Netherlandish workshop. Strong suggests the portrait was produced by the same workshop as Edward IV (NPG 3542) and Henry VI (NPG 2457), but the recent technical analysis indicates that this is unlikely. Characteristics such as the fine brushwork in the eyebrows, eyelashes and hair can be compared, but close examination shows that the paint handling and brushwork techniques on the portrait of Henry VIII are much more complex, subtle and varied than on the other two portraits where the methods are relatively simple.

Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
The x-ray shows extensive damage and paint loss to the right-hand side, including part of the beard and the edge of the face. These losses are also visible with infrared examination and restoration is visible in ultra violet light. The pre-restoration photographs show the very extensive damage. This area suffers from blisters and is likely to need ongoing treatment. There is a lot of abrasion to the surface, including the flesh paint. The sitter’s right hand has a large amount of restoration and abrasion but the left hand is in comparatively good condition. The green background was previously overpainted with a grey paint which can still be seen in parts of the background with magnification.

This picture requires a particularly stable environment and is not suitable for loan.

Originally the portrait had an engaged frame, as noted by Strong. Anecdotal evidence indicates the frame existed in a damaged form in the mid 1980s but is now missing, presumed lost.

The handling of this portrait is quite delicate, particularly in the face. Most of the paint surface is painted with a fairly fine brush, and a very fine brush was used for details such as the hair, beard and eyelashes.
The technique is orderly in construction; underlayers were applied first in several areas with fine details applied over them. The brushwork in the collar frill was applied with a 'dab and twist' technique (the paint has been dabbed on and the brush twisted to create the 'ruff'). The brushwork in the hat feathers has a similar consistency to the collar frill. A reserve was left for the hat when the first paint layer of the background was applied, indicating that the structure of the composition was well established. However, the x-ray shows that the hat was extended at the left edge at some point in the painting process because part of it is painted over the background. This would appear to be part of the standard process of refining the composition in the final stages.

The handling of the gold tunic has suffered from abrasion and retouching and was not originally one flat gold colour with brown modelling. It may have originally been painted to depict cloth of gold – a costly type of textile that incorporated gold thread - usually constructed by the application of red glazes over gilding. There are some sections of original gilding and red glaze residues in this area. The Hardwick version of this portrait shows some leaf and floral decoration in this area.

Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. The panel is made with two boards of unequal size that are not from the same tree. Analysis by dendrochronolgy suggests that the older board came from a tree felled after 1521.

Drawing and transfer technique
Infrared reflectography revealed some underdrawing, some of which can also be seen with the eye. The underdrawing is sketchy, perhaps executed with a dry medium, and not extensive, although some lines may be obscured by paint. Underdrawing is visible in the following areas:
- as light sketchy lines on the forehead just below the hairline
- as light sketchy lines along the edge of the chin and faint lines down the edge of the face on the right
- two ‘crow's feet’ lines, at the edge of the right eye
- light lines at the corner of the eye and a line along the lower edge of the eye
- a line around the end of the nose and at the top right where the nose meets the brow
- lines around some fingertips on the left hand

Relevance to other known versions
Strong lists all the non-Holbein portraits of Henry, VIII from 1535 to 1540, as one type, (Strong, 1969, p. 159, Type VI). However, as several different patterns for these portraits exist they should be considered individually:
- The one other near identical portrait to 3638 is at Hardwick House, in which Henry holds a flower in his right hand, 1129178
- The portrait type also displays some relation to the portrait by Joos van Cleve, c.1535 in the Royal Collection, RCIN 403368
- Related Anglo-Flemish portraits include Henry VIII (NPG 1376) and a similar version in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries LDSAL 333; Scharf XXXIV. There are many areas of similarity between the versions but each has minor differences. Another version using the same pose and face pattern is the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Hever Castle also has a similar version but the position and pattern of the face and details of the costume differ somewhat.

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


IRR mosaic 01. Infrared reflectogram mosaic s…
IRR mosaic 03. Infrared reflectogram mosaic o…
Micro 01. Eye on the left ( 7.1 x mag).
Micro 03. Detail of eyebrow on the left, show…
Micro 04. Lips (7.1 x mag).
Micro 06. Detail of the collar, showing layer…
Micro 07. Detail of restored decoration on ha…
Micro 08. Detail of feathers on the hat (7.1…
Micro 09. Underdrawing visible through paint…
Micro 10. Detail of a finger of the hand on t…
Micro 11. Detail of sleeve at right-hand edge…
Micro 12. Traces of possibly red glaze under…
Micro 13. Detail of tunic 'puff', showing lay…
Micro 14. Detail of green band at top of tuni…
Micro 15. Detail of background, collar and sh…
Micro 16. Detail of fur, showing technique (7…
Micro 18. Detail of hair (7.1 x mag).
Micro 19. Detail of hair, with underdrawing v…
Micro 20. Detail of the edge of the fur on th…
Micro 21. Detail of mixed green-grey line at…

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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 panel has a slight convex warp, and has been repaired in the past (see Support). A lot of damage has been sustained to the ground and paint in the past, especially in the right-hand (from front) section - most of this half of the image is restoration. There is a general network of craquelure (except in the gilding), and vertical cracks following the grain. The severe blistering and flaking noted in the past has not recurred to the same extent, but there are blisters/blind cleavage at the lower edge and in places in the background and brown robe. The varnish is even and glossy.

There is extensive restoration in the right part of the paint surface, where it has suffered considerable losses of ground and paint. The detail on the gold tunic is very abraded and much of the present detail is restoration. The face and the hand on the left are also abraded and there are thin layers of restoration in these parts.

This picture requires a particularly stable environment and is not suitable for loan.


Support type: Eastern Baltic oak

Number of boards: 2

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The panel join has been mended/strengthened in the past: there are nine diamond-shaped buttons down the join on the back of the panel. One of these buttons is labelled 'Jan 1952', and several have 'FWC' imprinted into them. On either side of the buttons are some old holes from a previous cradle/repair, and in one of them a nail/screw-shaft remains. There is old, inactive woodworm damage in the right-hand board, and down one section of the left-hand board (see Dendrochronology). '882 JF' is stencilled on the back of the panel. There are also traces of red wax embedded in the grain across the back. There is some damage to the lower-left (from back) corner, and a notch out of the lower edge, approximately 100 mm in from the left (from back) corner. The panel has a slight convex warp.

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: 1513


The panel has been made with two boards of unequal size, aligned vertically. No sapwood is present at the outermost edges of the boards, therefore a terminus post quem date can be applied. Both boards have sufficient rings for analysis and are not from the same tree. Board A (left side, from the front) is from an unusually slow growing tree. The date for the last heartwood ring on board A is 1501, and the date for the last heartwood ring on board B is 1513. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings to board B suggests a felling date after 1521. Board A is narrow compared with the majority of panel paintings, but board B is within the typical range. As this picture is undated and board B 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 1521-1553.

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.

Two wooden dowels joining the panel boards can be seen on the x-ray, one across the top of the forehead just below the hairline and one across the top of the gold tunic at the bottom edge of the decorative band. The diamond shaped buttons across the back of the panel join can be seen in x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01).

Extensive damage and paint loss is visible (on the right hand board) in the costume and background. The change in the right side of the hat can be seen (see Ultra violet). Most of the hat appears dark in x-ray, but there is a lighter area where the lower edge of the hat has been extended down from the eyebrow level in order to end next to the eye. X-ray shows fine horizontal lines across the decorative band at the top of the gold tunic which might have been incised or painted in an x-ray-opaque pigment (lead-based perhaps) before the final dark painted lines were applied. The brush handling and technique in the passages with lead-based paint are very clear in x-ray: the feather, the hair and eyebrows and moustache, the white shirt front visible in the slashes in the gold tunic, the flowing shirt cuff edges and the 'dab and twist' technique used on the edge of the shirt collar.

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.

Infrared examination revealed some underdrawing, most of which can also be seen in normal light. The underdrawing is sketchy and is not extensive but some of it is probably obscured by the paint (see IRR mosaic 01 and IRR mosaic 03).

- Light sketchy lines of underdrawing can be seen on the forehead just below the hair line.
- There are light sketchy lines along the edge of the chin and faint lines down the edge of the face on the right.
- There are two 'crow's feet' lines at the edge of the eye on the left.
- Light lines can be seen at the corner of the eye and there seems to be a line along the lower edge of the eye.
- A line can be seen round the end of the nose and at the top right where the nose joins the brow.
- Lines can be seen round some fingertips on the hand on the right (see Surface examination for details of medium).

The extensive paint losses on the board on the right-hand side are visible with infrared reflectography.

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 2008.

Preparation layers
A chalk ground was confirmed by several of the samples.
The priming seems to be mostly lead white, but with some traces of red (probably red ochre) which gives it a pale pink appearance. A sample from the very edge of the panel, in the background (sample 5) does not contain the priming, indicating that it was not painted onto the raised 'barbe' but was confined to the flat painting surface.

Close examination found that the gold of the tunic has a rather matte and broken appearance, and the presence of a yellow mordant beneath it indicates that it is unburnished leaf gold.

The dark linear decoration over the gold of the cuffs was found to be a mixture of carbon black and red ochre (samples 3 and 8). This is a common mixture for brown in paintings of this time. Glass-like particles were noted within the brown, which were possibly added to help the paint dry.

Other observations
Although the palette appears to be quite limited, there are many subtleties. For example, touches of bright green brushed along the left-hand edge of one of the tunic slashes were identified as verdigris, which was also employed for the background. A touch of verdigris also emphasises the shadow of the collar on the right side of the sitter's chest (sample 10).

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 paint was applied in an orderly way. The gilding was applied at an early stage in the traditional way. Underlayers were applied first in several areas and the fine details applied over them. Most of the paint surface is painted with a fairly fine brush, and a finer brush was used for the details. The brushwork in the collar frill was applied with a 'dab and twist' technique, observed also on the collar of another portrait of Henry, NPG 1376. The brushwork in the hat feathers has a similar consistency to the white collar frill and cuff edging. The tone of the feathers varies from cool and bluish, where the white paint was applied thinly over the black hat paint, to bright white where the paint is impasted and thicker at the feather tips. The hair, eyebrows and fur were executed with fine meticulous detail. The hair and eyebrows were applied with a fine pen-like thinness. The palette appears quite limited but there are many subtleties, such as the use of translucent copper green glaze in the collar shadow on the right side of the sitter's chest, and there are small residues of green and red glazes over the gold tunic, which were noted also on the gold canopy on the portrait of Edward VI, NPG 5511.

Preparation layers
The panel was prepared with a white chalk ground which flowed under the engaged frame when it was applied.
With microscopy, small scattered red pigment particles can be seen over the white ground, which indicates that there is a thin pale pink priming layer. Paint sample examination confirmed that there are traces of red mixed in the lead white of the priming (see Paint sampling).
Faint lines of underdrawing can be seen at the right side of the forehead (see micro 09), along the hairline, in the eyes (especially the eye on the left - see micro 01), lips (see micro 04), and possibly the nose. Drawn lines are visible, within the painted line, around all the fingers of the proper left hand (see micro 10). There are also some traces visible in the cuff on the right (see also Infrared reflectography).
In the fingers, where the underdrawing is visible through the paint, it appears to be drawn with a dry medium (see micro 10). This is also the case with the lines in the forehead (see micro 09).

Paint layer structure
The face and hand on the left have suffered considerable abrasion, but the hand on the right is in comparatively good condition. In the last stages of the painting process the fingers and the fingernails were outlined with swiftly applied fine lines of brown paint (see micro 10).

Hair, eyebrows and moustache
The light pinkish brushstrokes could be painted with lead-tin yellow or with lead white with some red mixed into it (see micro 18 and micro 19). These details are x-ray opaque which indicates the presence of lead. Some very straight white brushstrokes depict hairs in the eyebrows and section of beard directly below the lips (see micro 03).

The gilding was applied at an early stage (see micro 11). There is a yellow mordant layer under the gold (see Paint sampling). The white shirt slashes in the sleeves are painted over the gilding (see micro 13). The edge of the flesh paint on the chin is painted over the upper edge of the gilding applied for the gold collar band (see micro 06).

A green/grey line (see micro 21) at the left of the right-of-centre white shirt slash is made with a mixture of many different large particles, including verdigris (see Paint sampling). Small residues of red glaze at the edge of this white shirt slash can be seen with microscopy (see micro 13). Much of the current glazing on the gold tunic is overpaint. There are some sections which might be the original decoration in this area, where remnants of red glaze can be seen over gold, in the shadow above the hand on the left (see micro 12). The glazes on the gold sleeves are the best preserved parts. Paint sample examination showed that the brown decoration is made with red, mainly earth pigments, and black. There is a decorative fringe of green along the top edge of the gold tunic (see micro 14) which appears to be copper green glaze.

The thin grey underlayer for the white collar frill was applied over the edge of the flesh paint. The 'dab and twist' brushwork for the frilly white edge was applied last (see micro 06). This final detail was evidently applied after the background, as in some parts the green background can be seen under the collar frill. Some of the brown decoration along the gold collar band is original (see micro 15). Thin dark shadow is painted at the lower right edges of the black tapes which hang from the neck down over the white shirt front (see micro 04).

Most of the decorations on the hat are restoration, but remnants of original paint are visible (see micro 07). The black paint of the hat itself is very abraded, and overpainted with a black glaze.

The fur was painted first with a thin brown layer over the priming. This layer is used for the lighter parts of the fur and exploits the luminosity of the ground. Fine, darker brushstrokes were applied densely over the light layer to define the texture of the fur and individual hairs, especially at the edges and in the areas of shadow (see micro 16).

The background was painted in two layers, with an opaque light green underlayer, made with verdigris and lead white and a copper green glaze over it. At the right side of the face, the green background extends under the hat and hair to a certain point. The section of hat over the background equates to the extension noted in UV and X-ray (see Ultra violet and X-ray), and as the green is not visible beneath the rest of the hat, this indicates that a reserve was left for the hat when the first paint layer of the background was applied. As no change in surface appearance is visible under the microscope, and remnants of the older yellow decoration can be seen in the extended section of the hat, it would seem that the alteration was made at the time of painting, and is not a later change. Under magnification, remnants of the old grey overpaint can be seen in the background (see micro 15).

Order of construction
- White chalk ground
- Thin light pink priming
- Underdrawing
- Gilding was applied at an early stage
- Underlayers were applied for the flesh paint, the fur and the green background
- A thin grey underlayer was applied for the collar, cuffs, and the shirt slashes' 'puffs', in the gold tunic and gold sleeves
- The glaze layer on the background was added a little later
- The edge of the hat on the right was extended down to eye level after the top layer of green background paint was applied
- The final parts of the hair on the right were painted over the green background paint
Fine details were then added:
- For the features, the hair, detail of costume, hat feathers and decoration (see micro 08), collar frill, cuffs, slashes
- Final details of fur, brown outline of the fingers, decoration on the gold tunic and gold sleeves

Lead white, red lead, black, copper green glaze, red lake, lead-tin yellow, red ochre, earth pigments, verdigris

Changes in composition/pentimenti
The edge of the hat has been extended on the right (as described above).

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

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

The extensive restoration in the right-hand side is visible in ultra violet light as dark patches over the varnish. (see UV 01). These are also present down the panel join and in the face. The cuff on the left has been strengthened in places, and there is much retouching in the hands. The red sleeve at the right fluoresces bright orange/pink, indicating that the paint could contain madder lake. The lower part of the gold tunic seems to have a layer over it which is cloudy and opaque in ultra violet light. The upper part is much more distinct, but seems to have much strengthening of the lines. There is a difference in fluorescence within the hat: much of it fluoresces yellow/green and is opaque, down to a line level with the eyebrow on the right, but below this is a darker section. It seems that the size of the hat has been changed - this is very evident in the x-ray image (see X-ray).


Frame type: Not original.

Frame date: Early 21st century.


The painting was reframed in 2014, the construction, design and surface decoration of the new frame based very closely on the original frame for NPG 1376 Henry VIII. Prior to this reframing, the painting was housed in a late 20th century wide / heavy oak moulding with a natural finish and gilt effect sight edge.

The new frame is fabricated from Croatian oak, the profile machined to match the profile of NPG 1376. Also like NPG 1376, the corners are joined with glued mitred lap joints, secured through with oak dowels.

The surface decoration is based on the findings and conclusions of analysis of the likely original surface finish on the frame for NPG 1376, which was:
- 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

The new frame for NPG 3638 was gessoed, the outer moulding given a finish of lamp black then varnished and waxed; the flat central band given an undercoat of yellow ochre and then successive oil based glazes to simulate a crude aged tortoiseshell painted finish; and the inner moulding oil gilt, then distressed and toned.