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Sir Richard Southwell

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Sir Richard Southwell, after Hans Holbein the Younger, late 16th century, based on a work of 1536 - NPG 4912 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

Sir Richard Southwell

after Hans Holbein the Younger
oil on panel, late 16th century, based on a work of 1536
18 in. x 14 in. (457 mm x 356 mm)
NPG 4912


New Date: Late sixteenth or early seventeenth century.

Key findings: The portrait has the appearance of a highly competent English workshop and data from the board matched that of wood from London or the South-East of England.

Historical summary
Purchased from Mr Jean-Luc Bordeaux of California in 1974 after it was offered by him to the Gallery in a private transaction in 1972. Before this the portrait had appeared in the Sotheby’s sale 21st July 1971 and was bought by French and Co. Between 1971 and about 1866 nothing is known by the Gallery of the whereabouts of the portrait. In about 1866 it was owned by Mr H. E. Chetwynd-Stapylton.

Notes on likely authorship
The portrait has the appearance of a highly competent English workshop. Data from the board matched that of wood from London or the South-East of England.

Commentary on painting style, technique
The portrait is finely painted, and the paint layers vary in thickness across the surface. Various areas, particularly the face, show a refined technique, especially in the way lines are softened for shading effects. The hairline is softened and made less solid by many regular short brushstrokes at the edge. The sleeves are smoothly modelled from dark to light. Traces of rich black glaze (some containing red pigment) in some shadows indicate that contrasts would have been more pronounced, and the fabric would have appeared richer and more luxurious.

The background is extensively restored, but paint sample analysis has identified the original blue pigment used as blue verditer (also known as blue ‘bice’), an artificial copper carbonate.

Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from the period. Dendrochronology suggests the portrait was painted after 1588, and the picture probably dates from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century.

Drawing and transfer technique
The underdrawing seems to have been executed with a brush using red lake. Very little carbon-based underdrawing was evident with infrared reflectography. Red brush outlines appear in parts of the composition, for example, they are visible through the paint of the shirt, and around the edges in various places. It is possible that a tracing was used, transferred to the panel, and red lake used to reinforce the lines, with almost none of the original tracing material remaining.

Relevance to other known versions
- the original Holbein portrait is now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence
- another version is in the Louvre
- Ganz makes reference to a version with a landscape background in a private collection in Rio de Janeiro
- Holbein’s preparatory drawing is in the Royal Collection at Windsor, RCIN 912242

Ganz, Paul, The Paintings of Hans Holbein, 1950, p. 246 (no. 88)
Penny, Nicholas, Patronage and Collecting in the Seventeenth Century: Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, The Ashmolean Museum, p. 195 (no. 53)
Roberts, Jane, Holbein and the Court of Henry VIII: drawings and miniatures from the Royal Collection, Royal Library, Windsor Castle, 1994, p. 64
Scharf, George, A List of the Most Noteworthy Pictures in the National Portrait Exhibition at South Kensington, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1866 (no. 108)
Starkey, David, and Susan Doran, Henry VIII: Man and Monarch, The British Library, London, 2009, p. 175 (no. 172)
Trapp, Joseph, and Hubertus Schulte Herbruggen, 'The King's Good Servant' Sir Thomas More, 1477/8 - 1535, National Portrait Gallery, 1977, p. 109 (no. 212)


IRR mosaic 01. Infrared reflectogram mosaic o…
IRR mosaic 02. Infrared reflectogram mosaic o…
Micro 01. Eye on the left, showing black part…
Micro 03. Holes in the paint surface (20 x ma…
Micro 04. Lips, showing faint drawn/painted d…
Micro 05. Nostril, showing parallel lines of…
Micro 06. Outline of nose, showing 'combed' l…
Micro 07. Traces of green/blue beneath flesh…
Micro 08. Original background beneath traces…
Micro 09. 'N' of 'ANNO' to the left of the fi…
Micro 10. 'E' of 'ETATIS', showing shell gold…
Micro 12. Detail of shirt, showing red painte…
Micro 13. Detail of shirt, showing delicate p…
Micro 14. Red underdrawing in the layer struc…
Micro 15. Detail of shirt cuff, showing delic…
Micro 16. Abraded gold on chain (10 x mag).
Micro 18. Ring (10 x mag).
Micro 21. Hat badge (7.1 x mag).

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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The painting is in reasonable condition, although it has been extensively restored, especially in the background. The texture of old damage can be seen around the edges of the paint surface and in the sitter's right hand. The widespread retouching in the background is visible. There is craquelure along the wood grain, as would be expected. There are slightly blanched streaks/scratches in the varnish.

The background has been heavily restored and much of it is overpainted. Other areas have not been retouched to the same extent, although the texture of damages under overpaint can be seen around the edges.


Support type: English oak

Number of boards: 1

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The panel is in good condition, but with a slight convex warp. The lower-left and top-right (from back) corners are chipped. The lower-left corner has split and been mended in the past. A nail holding the pieces together can be seen in the x-ray (see X-ray). There is a label stuck to the back of the panel, and a red wax seal. There is some damage around the seal, as if someone has tried to remove it. There is paper tape around the edges, and the remnants of another label at the left (from back) edge.

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: 1578


The single board is made with English oak and the tree-ring series matched data from London and the South East. The last heartwood ring was found to date from 1578 and as no sapwood was present a terminus post quem date can be applied to the panel. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggested that the tree used for the board was felled after 1588. However, because of its source a non-standard manufacturing process is likely and it is therefore inappropriate to attempt to apply LEHR-usage range calculations to this panel.

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.

Broad brushstrokes in various directions are visible across the surface in the x-ray image, and are probably associated with a priming/preparation layer. The x-ray also shows a great deal of damage; there are areas of loss around the edges and to the right of the face, and small isolated losses elsewhere (see x-ray mosaic 01).

The wavy and irregular grain of the panel is clearly visible in the x-ray. A nail can be seen embedded in the wood in the lower-right corner of the panel (see Support), and the seal on the back of the panel can be seen as a white circular shape in the face.

The x-ray also provides information about the handling and technique in the paint layers: the subtle modelling of the fabric of the sleeve can be seen much more clearly in the x-ray, because the addition of lead-white - which blocks the x-rays - makes the contrast between the grey and black much greater in this image. The flesh paint - especially the hands - appears to be more thickly painted than other areas, with a lot of lead white in the paint mixtures. However, the inscription is only very faintly visible in the x-ray image, indicating that it does not contain a significant amount of either lead white or lead-tin yellow.

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.

Very little was detected with infrared reflectography. This seems to be because any carbon-based drawing was painted over or reinforced with red paint (see Surface examination) (see IRR mosaic 01 and IRR mosaic 02).

A Holbein drawing for the original version of this painting exists (Windsor - Royal Collection). This drawing matches the outline of the painting almost exactly when tracings of the drawing and painting are compared. The Royal Collection drawing has very definite metalpoint lines, presumably drawn for a transfer process, over the chalk lines of the drawing.

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
There is a chalk ground and pale grey priming.

Blue verditer is confirmed to be in the background. Libby Sheldon questioned whether the background was originally blue. It has been overpainted or restored with a green mixture containing bright yellow and a blue which appears to be prussian, and traces of black and red - giving a dark green hue. Azurite was evidently available to the painter, as the ring is painted with this pigment. This raises the question as to whether the choice of blue verditer for the background was due to aesthetic or economic choices.

Analysis undertaken in 1973
Paint samples were taken and analysed by Joyce Plesters in 1973. Her analysis found that:
- the ground is chalk mixed with animal glue
- the paint medium has the characteristics of drying oil - probably linseed

Most areas were painted using materials and techniques of the time and similar to those found in paintings by Holbein, with the exceptions of:
- the background, which appeared green when examined, but cross-sections showed a moderately thick layer of blue, and a thin lead white layer over the ground. The pigment was found not to be natural azurite, but the manufactured version, blue verditer. This was available at the time, but was not used in Holbein's pictures. Blue verditer would have been cheaper than natural azurite.
- the clothing, in which a mid-tone that appeared black was found to be a mixture of red, brown and black pigments: vermilion, ochre, crimson lake, charcoal black. This could be an attempt to copy the maroon/purple seen in some Holbein portraits. However, this colour had a tendency to discolour, and Plesters supposed that the colour here might have been copied from such a picture after it had already discoloured.

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 portrait is finely painted and the paint layers vary in thickness across the surface. Restoration makes it difficult to assess the technique in some places, particularly the background. Various areas, particularly the face, show a very refined technique, especially in the way lines are softened for shading effects.

Preparation layers
There is a thick chalk ground which seems to have been laid on in two sessions, as indicated by the slight traces of a division noted in paint sample cross-section.

Joyce Plesters (1973) found a thin lead white layer under the blue background. Libby Sheldon (2008) has confirmed that the priming contains mostly lead white with occasional traces of black and dark brown; it would probably have been pale grey.

In various places in the face, blue/green paint can be seen protruding through the surface (see micro 07). It is possible that this is associated with the background, but continues under the paint of the face. The extent of this layer is not clear.

Very little underdrawing was detected with infrared reflectography (see Infrared reflectography). This seems to be because very little carbon-containing medium was used, and instead the majority of the underdrawing seems to have been carried out with a brush using red lake paint (see micro 12). This is visible through the paint of the shirt, and around the edges in various places. A loss in the cuff on the right shows this red lake in the layer structure (see micro 14). Paint sample cross-sections show that the red lake lies over the grey priming.
It is possible that a tracing was used, transferred to the panel, and red lake used to reinforce the lines, with almost none of the original tracing material remaining. Red lake drawing has been noted in Italian sixteenth-century paintings (noted also in the Italo/Flemish, 'Adoration of the Shepherds', in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where black underdrawing is also present). Red lake underdrawing has also been noted in later portraits, such as the portrait of Sir Thomas Pope (T03029) at Tate by an unknown seventeenth-century painter circa 1635, where black painted underdrawing outlining the face appears to strengthen an initial brush drawing in bright red lake (visible with microscopy at the right corner of the mouth).

Paint layer structure
Flesh paint - face and hands
In the areas of flesh paint, very many black particles seem to be lying on the surface (see micro 01). It is probable that these are everywhere across the surface, but are more visible in these light areas. These might be residual carbon particles brushed away during the transfer process. The flesh paint contains lead white, red lake and vermilion. No blue pigment was noted in the whites of the eyes (see micro 01). The paint varies in thickness in the face, with a variety of brushstrokes used for different effects. For example, the thick pink highlight under the eye on the right contrasts with the thinner passages around it, but is blended into the surrounding paint with fine brushstrokes. The painted outline of the nose has a double line, which are both 'combed' through, either with a brush or tool, to feather and soften the line (see micro 06). A similar technique can be seen in the nostril (see micro 05), and the same fine blending is evident in the ear. Many of the shadows in the rest of the face and neck seem to be created with subtly blended hatching. The hairline is softened and made less solid by lots of regular, short brushstrokes at the edge.

There are many small round holes in the paint surface (see micro 03). These are probably where lead soaps have formed, worked up through the paint layer and have been knocked out during cleaning.

Although very little underdrawing was detected with infrared reflectography, some sections seem to be outlined with paint. The lips appear to have a vague painted outline around the edges and where they meet (see micro 04). The line between the lips is then painted with a line of red lake. Red lake paint in the lips looks to have been dragged with a dry brush to blend.

White shirt
The laced shirt and white cuffs are delicately and skilfully painted (see micro 13), and in places a pale priming layer might have been allowed to show through as a mid-tone. The shadows are thinly painted, and the highlights more thickly painted (see micro 15).

Gold Chain
The chain visible at the front and at the shoulder has abraded gold, and there are also painted lines (see micro 16). There are the remains of a warm glaze, containing red lake, over the gold. This appears to have been applied in fine lines. The section at the shoulder appears to have a mid-tone of greyish blue underpaint. However, no blue was found (see Paint sampling) and this layer was found to be a medium-rich grey layer. The paint sample from this area shows that there is a red glaze over the gold, consisting of two layers of brown, the upper one with a high proportion of red lake with some black. The gold lies underneath this. The lower brown layer is lighter, more orange in colour, forming a kind of impasto. The mid-tone grey layer lies beneath the lower layer.

The blue used in the ring gem is natural azurite (see Paint sampling). There are traces of gold with a warm thin glaze containing red lake over it (see micro 18).

Hat badge
There is worn gilding with a warm glaze, containing red lake over it, which appears to have been applied in fine lines as with the chain (see micro 21).

Black sleeves
These are smoothly modelled in black and shades of grey, worked up from dark to light. There are traces of a rich black glaze in some of the shadows, which would have made these even darker, the contrasts more pronounced, and the appearance of the fabric more luxurious. In two paint samples analysed in 2008 the black was found to be composed of reds with black.

Black/brown robe
Analysis in 1973 found two paint layers, each with a mixture of red, brown and black. The lower one is granular with brown ochre, particles of vermilion, charcoal black and occasional red lake. The upper has a higher proportion of very dark brownish red lake with some black and brown particles (see Paint sampling).

Red tablecloth
There is a great deal of restoration but some original is visible. The red is pure dry-process vermilion.

This has been extensively restored, but some parts of the (probably very abraded) original background can be seen amongst the overpaint (see micro 08). This original appears to contain azurite and white (see Paint sampling from 1973 analysis, which found the blue to be blue verditer (synthetic azurite)). This was confirmed by Libby Sheldon's analysis in 2008. There are traces of a darker old overpaint in places. Comparison with the Holbein original (Uffizi) indicates that NPG 4912 would probably originally have had a cast shadow on the left-hand side. No trace of this remains.

The inscription has been repainted/regilded at least once. The gold on the surface now is shell gold, applied with a brush. On the left-hand side, a slightly raised layer can be seen beneath the current lettering - this could be the original mordant or painted lettering (see micro 09). On the right-hand side, no such original layer is visible (see micro 10). As the inscription shows up only very faintly in x-ray (see X-ray), it is probable that the original layers do not contain lead-tin yellow, or a high proportion of lead white.

Order of construction
- Chalk ground
- Pale grey priming
- Red lake outlining of composition, probably to strengthen tracing of a pattern
- First layers for flesh
- First layers for costume
- Detail on face and hands
- Modelling on costume
- Red tablecloth
- Background
- Inscription
- All the gilding could have been applied last, as it overlaps some areas already painted, such as the badge on the hat
- Red glaze was applied over the gilding on the costume.

Lead white, black, red lake, vermilion, blue verditer (artificial copper carbonate), azurite, earth pigments, lead-tin yellow

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

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

In ultra violet light the varnish has a slightly milky, blueish fluorescence. Extensive retouching can be seen as dark spots over the varnish, especially in the background. There is less retouching elsewhere: a few isolated spots in the face, and some in the costume (see UV 01). A slightly orange tone to the fluorescence was evident in the lower part of the sleeve on the left, and the jacket appears slightly brown under the ultra violet light.


Frame type: Not original.

Frame date: Late 20th century.