King Henry VIII
8 of 98 portraits of King Henry VIII
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
King Henry VIII
by Unknown artist
oil on panel, 1597-1618
22 7/8 in. x 17 3/4 in. (582 mm x 450 mm) uneven
The portrait set is the product of a number of workshops; within this set, this portrait is linked to the portraits of Henry VII and Mary I.
This portrait is part of a set of sixteen portraits of English kings and queens. The set was previously at Hornby Castle near Bedale, the North Yorkshire seat of the Duke of Leeds, where it was recorded hanging in a corridor gallery in catalogues of 1898 and 1902. Its previous history is unknown but it was possibly acquired for Hornby Castle by the Darcy family. The set was on loan to the Gallery from 1930, following the death of the 10th Duke of Leeds in 1927, and was purchased in 1974 from the 10th Duke of Leeds Will Trust.
This portrait type is ultimately derived from Hans Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII. It resembles the head seen in the Remigius van Leemput copy of Holbein’s Whitehall Mural, which is in the Royal Collection.
Notes on attribution
This portrait is the product of an English workshop. The sixteen portraits in the set appear to have been sourced from several different workshops. It is possible that this portrait came from the same source as the paintings of Henry VII and Mary I.
Justification for dating
Some of the portraits in the set appear to be directly based on woodcuts from a series published in London in 1597 (Thomas Talbot, A Booke Containing the True Portraiture of the Kings of England) so it is likely that the set was produced after this date. Unlike the majority of sets of English kings and queens made in 1618 and later, none of the portraits are based on engravings from Henry Holland’s Baziliologia, which was published in that year. It is likely, therefore, that this set was produced before the Baziliologia was published. The materials and techniques used to produce this portrait are entirely consistent with paintings from the period; dendrochronological analysis indicates that the tree used for the panel is likely to have been felled between 1582 and 1596.
A grey priming layer can be seen beneath the upper paint layers; for example, in the face. The priming is left exposed as grey ovals in the costume pattern. The flesh paint is very finely blended, with very little visible brushstroke texture. The beard is painted with varied brushwork, using dry strokes of black to form the base of the beard, with a more fluid brown paint mix applied over the top with many small brushstrokes and a few strands of white. The costume is painted with finer detail than the other portraits in the group. As with the other Tudor monarchs in the set, there is no gilding on the portrait and lead-tin yellow has been used to depict the gold elements.
Drawing and transfer technique
The underdrawing on the painting is similar to that seen in the portrait of Richard II in the set (NPG 4980(8)). The eyes, bottom of the nose and lips were lightly marked in and then the shape of the beard and areas of shadow were marked in with carefully placed short lines. This could suggest that a similar method of transfer was used.
Other known versions
There are many other versions of this portrait, most of which were made for sets of English kings and queens.
Other versions can be found in the following collections:
- Dulwich Picture Gallery – part of a set
- Longleat (Marquess of Bath) – part of a set
- The Deanery, Ripon – part of a set
- Warwick Shire Hall
- Trinity College, Cambridge
- Hardwick Hall
- National Maritime Museum
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Helmingham Hall (Lord Tollemache)
- Christ Church, University of Oxford, LP 18
- Compton Verney, CVCSC:0192.B
- Knole, National Trust, NT 129753
- Plas Newydd, National Trust, NT 1175950
- Christ Church, University of Oxford, LP 19
- Charlecote Park, National Trust, NT 533881
- Gainsborough Old Hall, GANOHL 62
- Royal Collection, RCIN 404741
- Royal Collection, RCIN 406135
- Blickling Hall, National Trust, NT 355468
- Royal College of Physicians, London, X99
Cooper, Tarnya, ‘The Enchantment of the Familiar Face: Portraits as Domestic Objects in Elizabethan and Jacobean England’ in Hamling, Tara and Richardson, Catherine (eds.), Everyday Objects: Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture and its Meanings, 2010, pp. 157-177
Daunt, Catherine, ‘Portrait Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England’ unpublished PhD thesis, University of Sussex, 2015
Daunt, Catherine, Heroes and Worthies: Emerging Antiquarianism and the Taste for Portrait Sets in England', in T. Cooper, A. Burnstock, M. Howard and E. Town, eds, Painting in Britain 1500-1630: Production, Influences and Patronage, 2015, pp. 362-75
Gibson, Robin, ‘The National Portrait Gallery’s Set of Kings and Queens at Montacute House’ in The National Trust Yearbook, 1975, pp. 81-87
Gibson, Robin, ‘A Jacobean Gallery of the Kings and Queens of England’, Folio, Spring 1995 (The Folio Society, London), pp. 9-16
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, I, pp. 150-54
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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 join is secure. The excess glue stands a little proud along the join at the back and the edges of the boards are a little misaligned at the join. The paint surface is secure and in good condition. There has been some minor flaking in the past. There are some stains and spots of ingrained dirt on the face. The restoration appears adequately matched. There is some blanching in the brown fur of the shoulder on the right. The varnish is semi-glossy.
Number of boards: 2
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
The panel boards have been rejoined and there is a slight warp. At the lower-right corner there is some small wood loss. There are nail holes at the edges: two at the left edge, and one at the top, bottom and right edges. These are probably related to an earlier method of securing the panel within a framework; perhaps within panelling. In the centre of the panel, approximately 5.5 cm from the upper edge, there are four small holes, one with part of a broken nail. These are likely to be related to an old hanging system. There is a small area of paint loss in the same area - in the centre of the hat feather - where the paint surface has been penetrated from the back. The panel has three numbers on the reverse written in pencil in different locations: 7, 26 and 29. 'Henry 8' is written in white chalk and the roman numeral 'VIII' has been written in a dark red material. There is also an old paper National Portrait Gallery label.
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: 1582
For analysis the boards were labelled A and B from the left (from the front). Sapwood is present along the lower edges, which means that a felling date range can be applied to the panel. The two boards do not derive from the same tree. The last ring on Board B dated to 1582 and included 10 sapwood rings. This suggests that the board derives from a tree felled between 1582 and 1596. Board A was not dated. This board is a typical width (280 mm) for eastern Baltic oak and it is unlikely that it has been significantly trimmed.
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 wood grain and panel join can be seen in x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01). Nail holes from a past framing method can also be seen, including the remains of a nail in the wood in the centre of the hat feather. Unusual marks can be seen over the surface, which appear to be the priming applied in a characteristic manner that can be compared with Richard III (NPG 4980(12)). The face is painted with soft blended brushwork and the costume detail is carefully executed.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
The underdrawing is very characteristic and is similar in handling to that seen in the portrait of Richard II (NPG 4980(8)) from the same set. The eyes, tip of the nose and lips have been lightly marked in and the shape of the beard and areas of shadow have then been marked in with carefully placed short lines (see DIRR 01). The position of the Garter medal has been slightly changed at the painting stage. The free lines showing the original position can be clearly seen in infrared.
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 for analysis in April 2011.
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground and a grey priming layer.
Sample 1: Cross-section and dispersion shows the chalk ground and a grey priming, containing lead white and carbon black. Over these layers there is an orange/red layer containing red lead, with possibly a little crimson red lake and traces of dark pigment, possibly brown earth and lead-tin yellow. Over this there is a thick, slightly degraded varnish layer.
Sample 2: Cross-section shows a chalk ground, a warm grey priming with lead white, carbon black and a little red lead. Over this there is a layer of copper green glaze. In some parts of the cross-section there is also a layer of solid green paint containing lead-tin yellow and what appear to be black and green pigment particles. It is unclear whether the opaque green layer runs under the whole background or if it was laid on unevenly.
Sample 3: Cross-section shows a chalk ground and the warm grey priming layer with lead white, carbon black and a little red lead. Over this lies a bright red layer containing a high proportion of red lead with some particles of lead white and carbon black. Dispersion shows that there are also traces of red ochre in this layer. The upper layer is pinkish and contains mainly lead white, with some particles that appear to be red lead, and perhaps some red ochre.
Grey slash on lower sleeve
Sample 5: Cross-section contains the same orange/red layer of red lead and red ochre as that seen in the sleeve paint, but only a little of the white and black of the slash remained on the surface. Dispersion shows that the grey is a mixture of lead white and lamp black. A carbon black composed of large flake-like particles with some reflection is also present and could be from underdrawing. The lead white contains some large particles.
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 underdrawing and the quality of the paint handling can be compared to the portrait of Richard II (NPG 4980(8)) in the same set. There is fine blending in the flesh and fine brushwork in the beard and costume details. The costume is painted with finer detail than the other portraits in the set. As with the other portraits of the Tudor monarchs in this set, there is no gilding on the portrait and lead-tin yellow has been used to depict gold elements.
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground and a warm grey priming, which contains lead white mixed with carbon black and a little red lead. Underdrawing was applied with a carbon medium using a pattern and is visible in some areas beneath the paint layers.
The grey priming can be seen beneath the flesh paint. The modelling of the flesh is very finely blended with minimal texture of the brushstrokes visible. The flesh paint contains finely ground vermilion mixed with red lake, charcoal black and lead white. Shadows have been emphasised with thin washes of brown paint. The nostrils have been painted using a brown paint containing a small proportion of red lake. The underdrawing and the grey priming are clearly visible in the lips. The lips have been painted using the same mixture of pigments as the flesh but with a higher proportion of vermilion. The lips have a pronounced texture compared to other areas of the face. The line of the lips has been painted with red lake that has been subtly blended into the surrounding paint and dragged down into the area of the beard (see micro 03).
An initial layer of grey forms the whites of the eyes. The pupils have been painted with a mixture of black and earth pigments, and the iris has then been painted around the pupil (see micro 01 and micro 02). The irises are painted with two shades of grey applied over the initial underlayer, which shows through in areas adding to the variation of tone. Small vertical comma-shaped strokes of lead white have been applied as a highlight on the iris and whites of the eyes. The upper eyelid has been defined with a line of reddish brown paint. The corners of the eyes are marked with a daub of paint containing vermilion and red lake.
Eyelashes, eyebrows, beard and hair
The eyebrows have been defined with pale brown paint, over which a few brushstrokes depicting individual hairs have been applied. The eyelashes have been painted by dragging a stiff brush through the wet paint of the flesh and over the eyes. Most of the sitter’s hair is covered by the hat, but a few strands have been painted over the hat with small brushstrokes. Dry strokes of black form the base of the beard, with a more fluid brown paint mix applied over the top with many small brushstrokes and a few strands of white. The moustache has also been painted with a build up of brushstrokes but with a higher proportion of black in the paint mixture.
Background and inscription
The background has been painted in with a copper green glaze. At the top of the panel, where it has been protected by the frame, and in areas where the inscription has flaked off, the paint is a brighter green that is likely to be the original appearance of the background. In a paint sample from this area, a lower layer of opaque green paint is present, which contains lead-tin yellow, black and green particles. It is unclear how extensive this opaque layer is and whether it covers the entire background area. The inscription has been painted with a warm lead-tin yellow and old varnish residues are visible over the top (see micro 04).
A reserve has been left in the background for the feather on the hat and an initial layer has been loosely painted in. Details of the feathers have then been applied over the dried paint layers of the hat and background. The feather is painted with a mix containing lead white; the details have been mixed with some wet-in-wet blending. The gold settings for the diamonds have been applied over the hat using lead-tin yellow and red lead. The brushwork is delicate and detailed. The black of the hat acts as the base layer for the black of the diamonds, with small lead white highlights applied on top. Fine brushwork has been used to depict the pearls, blending grey tones and lead white to create the shape and highlights.
A grey underlayer is visible beneath many areas of the costume (see micro 06 and micro 07). The red sleeves have been painted with red lead mixed with small amounts of red lake, black and white. The grey ovals have been formed by leaving the priming visible, and the folds of the fabric have been painted over this with white paint. The brown fur has been painted in two layers: the initial layer is painted in brown and blocks in the overall shape, details and individual hairs and highlights have then been applied over this layer. In some areas these overlap the red sleeves, creating the illusion of fur. A warm orange paint layer has been loosely applied over the grey underlayer to form the base of the tunic. The gold threads have then been methodically painted in with lead-tin yellow and warm orange pigments. These details have been worked up in different stages, with the lower layers allowed to dry before further touches are added. The chain of the Garter medal has been marked in with dark brown paint at an early stage, applied over the grey underlayer. The links in the form of the letter ‘H’ have then been painted in with lead-tin yellow.
Order of construction
- Grey underlayer
- Green of background
- Flesh modelling
- White collar
- Tunic and chain underlayers
- Brown fur blocking-in layer
- Red sleeves
- Details on sleeves
- Gold thread details
- Detail of fur
- Black of hat and feather
Lead white, charcoal black, red lake, red lead, copper green glaze, lead-tin yellow, earth pigments, vermilion, red ochre
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
The surface has a film of varnish which appears a little opaque in ultra violet light and is therefore probably fairly thinly applied (see UV 01). The most recent restoration appears black in ultra violet light. This can be seen down the join, in the face, and in a few other scattered areas. Some spots of an older restoration, which appear less dark, can also be seen in the face.