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King William I ('The Conqueror')

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- subject matching 'Jewellery - Crowns and tiaras'

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King William I ('The Conqueror'), by Unknown artist, 1597-1618 - NPG 4980(1) - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

King William I ('The Conqueror')

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, 1597-1618
22 3/8 in. x 16 1/4 in. (568 mm x 414 mm) uneven
NPG 4980(1)


The portrait set is the product of a number of workshops; within the set, this portrait is closely linked to the portrait of Henry II.

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.

Historical context
This portrait relates to the woodcut of William I in Thomas Talbot’s A Booke Containing the True Portraiture of the Kings of England (London, 1597), although it does not appear to have been copied directly from this image.

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. Similarities in the paint handling indicate that this portrait may have been produced by the same workshop as the portrait of Henry II (NPG 4980(4)) and this is supported by the fact that both panels contain wood from a common tree.

Justification for dating
Some of the paintings in the set are directly based on woodcuts from Talbot’s 1597 publication so it is likely that the set was produced after this date. Unlike the majority of sets of English kings and queens made after 1618, 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 this period; dendrochronological analysis indicated that the tree used for the panel was felled between 1592 and 1608.

The painting is in good condition but does have some small areas of raised paint in the lower half of the painting.

Painting technique
Stylistically the painting is very close to the portrait of Henry II (NPG 4980(4)) but the paint is handled slightly less crisply. Detail on the gilding is defined with brown lines in a similar manner on both portraits. The painting technique is simple and straightforward, with the underlayers for the flesh and the background applied first, followed by the gilding. Wet-in-wet blending was used in some areas of modeling and detail in the flesh and hair. The style of the inscription can be compared closely with the portrait of King Henry II.

Drawing and transfer technique
Infrared reflectography reveals strong black underdrawing in the face and hand, which appears to have been executed quickly and to derive from a transferred image. Some lines are freely drawn, with zig-zag lines used to mark shadows on the cheeks and brow, single lines used to indicate creases between the eyebrows and single curved lines to mark the position of the knuckles.

Relevance to other known versions
Very few portraits of William I survive from this period. Most post-1618 versions use a profile-portrait type based on an engraving from the Baziliologia. There is, however, a similar portrait in the English Heritage collection at Battle Abbey, East Sussex.

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


Micro 01. Detail of eye on the left (7.1 x ma…
Micro 02. Detail of eye on the right (7.1 x m…
Micro 03. Detail showing blending of the fles…
Micro 04. Detail of inscription (7.1 x mag).
Micro 05. Detail of the edge of the flesh and…
Micro 06. Detail of the edge of the beard and…
Micro 07. Detail of finger (7.1 x mag).
UV 01. Front of the panel in ultra violet li…
Reverse 01. Back of the panel in raking light…

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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Some areas of paint in the lower half of the painting are raised, and a little unstable and move when touched. There is slight movement towards the upper edge of the panel join. The frame rebate has caused a strip of matt abrasion to the varnish along the upper edge of the panel. There are some slightly matt areas of restoration. The varnish is clear, reasonably even, and semi-glossy.


Support type: Oak

Number of boards: 2

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

Two horizontal channels have been cut into the back of the panel. Two horizontal members were once attached here, but were removed in 1974. The verso has been partially sanded down, exposing woodworm channels in a number of areas. There are a number of larger exposed channels along the upper and lower edges, which may relate to old nail or fixing holes. The upper and lower part of the join has opened a little and has been repaired. There is a paper NPG label, the number '5' written in white chalk and an 'X' drawn in a dark red material.

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: 1584


For analysis the boards were labelled A and B from the left (from the front) for analysis. The sequence of rings obtained from the two boards do not match each other. However, the sequence from board A matches very strongly with board A from Henry II (NPG 4980(4))and these boards are evidently derived from the same tree. The date for the last measured ring from board A is 1582, from board B the date is 1584, and 1585 from board A of Henry II. Both board B from William I and board A from Henry II retain some sapwood. Adding the appropriate minimum and maximum expected number of sapwood rings suggests the tree for the two boards was felled between 1592 and 1608. These two linked panels are narrower than others in the set.

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.

The wood grain and the panel join are evident in x-ray (see x-ray mosaic 01). The brushwork is also very clear; broad brushstrokes can be seen describing the principal elements, with fine brushstrokes for detail. The reserve left for the beard, when the mordant was applied, can also be seen.

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.

Black underdrawing can be seen in the face and hand, and appears hastily applied (see DIRR 01). The outlines for the features are strongly drawn and zig-zag lines indicate shadows on the cheeks and brow. Single lines indicate creases between the eyebrows and single curved lines mark the position of the knuckles. The lines of the underdrawing appear to be of a similar weight and pressure and even though the drawing is very free, the relative precision in the way in which the features are marked out suggests that a pattern was used.

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 for analysis in April 2011.

The panel was prepared with a chalk ground with a white priming over it. The priming contains a small amount of red lake. It seems that the priming was not applied right to the edge of the panel, as can be seen in Sample 4 where the mordant for the gold was applied directly over the ground.

Sample 1: The cross-section shows the priming and the flesh paint. The flesh is painted with two layers, with white lead mixed with fine particles of black, red lake and yellow. The upper layer is lighter but this may be due to fading of the red lake.

Sample 2: Dispersion from the letter E in GULIELMUS showed that the lumpy orange yellow is probably a lead-based yellow but is not obviously lead-tin yellow.

Sample 3: The cross-section samples from the background were found to be wholly later paint, with no sign of chalk ground or original paint. However, surface examination shows that the original paint layer contains white lead, black and red lead.

Sample 4: The cross-section shows the chalk ground, and the thick and uneven orange mordant layer, which is composed of a mixture of earth pigments, red lead, black and white, applied directly over the ground. Gold leaf was applied over the mordant.

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
Dendrochronology has linked this painting with the portrait of King Henry II (4980 (4)). Stylistically they are very similar, but the paint is handled slightly more crisply; detail on the gilding is defined with brown lines in a similar manner to the portrait of King Henry II.

Preparation layers
The panel was prepared with a chalk ground and a white priming containing a small amount of red lake. The strong and extensive underdrawing was carried out with a carbon medium that has a sparkly appearance.

The flesh was painted with a pale underlayer applied swiftly with relatively broad brushstrokes, using mixtures of lead white, charcoal black, vermilion, and red lake (see micro 03 and micro 07). The modelling layers were applied thinly over the pale underlayer, using black, vermilion and red lake. The eyes and nose are defined with a dull red mixture containing red lake, black and vermilion. The appearance of the texture of the underlayer has been exaggerated by old varnish residues caught in the brushwork. The surface modelling is a little abraded, which also emphasises the underlying thicker brushstrokes. The mouth is painted with lead white, red lake and vermilion, with the line between the lips defined with red lake. The hand is painted in a similar way to the face, with some parts painted wet-in-wet. The brown outlines on the hands were applied last, at the same time as the brown detail on the gilding.

The underdrawing was applied quite thickly using a material with a sparkly appearance, and this can be seen at the outer corner of the eye on the left (see micro 01 and micro 02). The grey irises were painted wet-in-wet with a mixture of lead white and black, and the pupils were painted with a mixture of black and brown earth pigments with some blending, the whites of the eyes were painted with lead white with some charcoal and a few red particles, which are probably vermilion. The outlines of the eyes were defined with the same mixture as the nose, with a dull red mixture containing red lake, black, and vermilion. This is very finely blended to create the eyelash brushstrokes, the upper lashes contain contain more black.

Beard, eyebrows and hair
The beard is painted over the broadly applied underlayer for the flesh. The beard, eyebrows and hair were painted with dark grey paint (a black and white mixture with a little vermilion) with white highlight details and individual hairs painted with a fine brush, often used wet-in wet (see micro 05). At the inner edge of the left point of the beard there is an area where the broad brushstrokes of the priming can be seen at the edge of the gilding on the collar (see micro 06).

Armour and crown
The gilding was applied over a warm light brown mordant (containing earth pigments, red lead, black and white), which was applied before the flesh paint and beard. The armour was painted with mixtures of black and white. The line of the shoulder on the left, near the sword, was initially a little higher but was lowered when the final background paint layer was applied. The two orange lines on the shoulder on the right may contain red lead. The last part of the sword seems to have been painted at the same time as the background, with the edges blended wet-in-wet. The brown detail on the gilding was painted at the end of the painting process. The diamonds on the crown were painted with black and white, and the red jewels with red lake glaze.

Background and inscription
A first layer for the background was laid in at an early stage. The final layer for the background appears to have been painted at the same time as the armour, with a mixture of black, white and some red lead. The inscription was painted last; it appears to be a mixture with lead-based yellow pigment, white, and some orange, which might be mixed with vermilion or orpiment. The style of the inscription can be compared to that of King Henry II (NPG 4980 (4))(see micro 04).

Order of construction
- Ground
- Priming
- Underdrawing
- Underlayer for flesh and hair
- First layer for background
- Mordant for gilding
- Gilding applied
- Flesh modelling
- Beard, eyebrows, hair
- Dull red shadows and outlines on flesh
- Armour
- Background final paint layer
- Brown detail and jewels on gilding
- Inscription

Lead white, charcoal black, red lake, vermilion, red lead, earth pigments, gold leaf, red lead

Changes in composition/pentimenti
The line of the shoulder on the left, near the sword, was lowered a little when the final layer of background paint was applied

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

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

A thin, uneven and opaque layer of varnish can be seen using ultra violet light (see UV 01). There are a few dark areas of scattered restoration.


Frame type: Not original.

Frame date: Late 20th century.


Carved and ebonised frame with Egg and Dart motifs.