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Sir Thomas Wyatt

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Sir Thomas Wyatt, by Unknown artist, circa 1550 - NPG 3331 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

Sir Thomas Wyatt

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, feigned circle, circa 1550
13 1/2 in. x 13 in. (343 mm x 330 mm)
NPG 3331


Key findings: The picture would appear to be by a late sixteenth-century English, or Anglo-Netherlandish artist. Underdrawing with a sparkly quality is visible through the paint surface.

Historical summary
Purchased from Arthur J. Dix of Norfolk House, Saffron Walden, Essex in 1947. Previously sold at Christie’s, 24 March 1937, lot 13, in the sale of the collection of Mrs M Berryman, White House, Great Chesterford, Essex.

Notes on likely authorship
This picture would appear to be by an English or Anglo-Netherlandish artist.

Commentary on painting style, technique
A fairly limited range of pigments was used for this painting. Beneath the flesh paint there is a cool grey layer (applied over the pale grey priming) which gives a cool tone to the pale, thinly applied flesh paint. Analysis of the original technique in the blue background is difficult, due to extensive abrasion and considerable overpaint. The original blue pigment has been identified as indigo, but the pigment used for the various restoration campaigns is Prussian blue.

Justification for dating
The panel was not suitable for dendrochronology. However, all materials and techniques are consistent with the portrait having been produced in the sixteenth century.

Drawing and transfer technique
The underdrawing visible through the paint surface has a sparkly quality and it has been suggested that this might be graphite but further investigation is needed. Infrared reflectography detected fine lines of underdrawing in the ear, moustache, hair and outline of the profile. The lines in the ear are slightly wavy as if tracing a template. The paint has not kept strictly to the underdrawing – although the profile line is in keeping with the painted edge, the drawn lines around the beard, the back of the neck, the hair at the nape of the neck and around the head are outside the painted edge.

To create the circle composition a compass has been used and there is a hole in the sitter’s ear from this. The two resulting circular lines are incised.

Relevance to other known versions
- version attributed to Holbein in the Christopher Gibbs collection, c.1541, possibly the prime version
- Fry Collection (formerly owned by Charles I), c.1545-50
- Romney Collection, 5th Earl of Romney, Walden, Worplesdenm, c.1545-50
- (Late copy of Fry picture: Branbourne Collection, by H. L. Smith.)
- sold by Sotheby's on 5th July 2006

Alberge, Dalya, ‘“Anonymous” Painting found to be a Holbein masterpiece’, The Times, Monday 27th February 2006
Conway, Martin, ‘Portraits of the Wyatt Family’, Burlington Magazine, vol. 16, 1909, pp. 154-9
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp. 340-341
Strong, Roy, ‘In Search of Holbein's Thomas Wyatt the Younger’, Apollo, March 2006, pp. 46-56


X-ray 01. X-ray image of the whole painting.
IRR mosaic 01. Infrared reflectogram mosaic o…
Micro 01. Eye (7.1x mag).
Micro 03. Modelling in the ear, also showing…
Micro 04. Grey underlayer and ground revealed…
Micro 05. Smalt particles in the flesh paint…
Micro 09. Varnish layers in the background (5…
Micro 12. Hole in the ear made by compasses u…

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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 is sound, although the join is slightly out of plane in the lower half. There are some old losses around the edges, particularly along the lower edge. There are sharp cracks in the top-left and lower-right corners, which are slightly raised but stable. The paint is thin and significantly rubbed in places, particularly the beard, hair and background. A band of approximately 5 mm at the top and bottom edges is slightly matt. The background is very abraded and has been extensively overpainted/restored. An area just to the left of the brow appears to have cream-coloured brushstrokes of retouching applied over blue restoration to make it appear as abraded as the adjacent paint. There is one unfilled loss in the eye, although this does not appear very recent. There is glaze-like overpaint in the dark brown circle. The varnish is even and quite matte.


Support type: Oak

Number of boards: 2

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

The join and mended split are sound, although there is a slight opening at the top of the mended split. The join is slightly out of plane on the front. Partially planed along joins on reverse (noted by R B-G, 1977). There is a painted inscription on the back: 'Thomas Wyatt the Younger' (the 'T' of 'Thomas' is missing because of the planing mentioned above). There is a National Portrait Gallery label, some remnants of paper and some varnish on the back of the panel.

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: n/a


This panel could not be dated by dendrochronology because the ring sequences obtained from the left-hand board did not match against reference data or other undated sequences.

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 construction/repair of the panel can be seen in the x-ray image, with the splits/joins and the wooden blocks attached to them clearly visible. The wood grain can be seen to be straight and even. The incised circular lines can be seen in the x-ray. The small hole made by the point of the compass, when the circle was made, can be seen in the ear at the edge of the lobe. An inscription on the back of the panel (partly obscured by the blocks) can be seen fully (with the exception of the 'T' of Thomas) in the x-ray. It reads 'Thomas Wyatt the Younger (see x-ray 01). The face, a vertical section of the neck, and the top of the sitter's back are light and opaque in the x-ray because of a high proportion of lead white in the paint in these areas. By contrast, the brown areas of the hair and beard are very dark and no modelling can 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.

Infrared reflectography detected fine lines of underdrawing in the ear, moustache, hair and outline of the profile (it is possible that the medium could be graphite) (see Surface examination). A line was also visible marking out the roundel. The lines in the ear appear tentative and slightly wavy, as if they were drawn slowly to trace another line, rather than having the confidence of a freehand line. The two circular lines are incised (see Surface examination). The small hole made by the point of the compass, used when the circle was made, can be seen in the ear lobe (see IRR mosaic 01).

The paint does not exactly follow the drawn lines. A line for the beard is outside the painted outline. The drawn line visible at the back of the neck and the one round the head are just beyond the painted edge, but the line for the edge of the hair, just above the nape of the neck, is drawn further away from the painted edge. The line along the profile is the same as the painted edge.

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 with a pale grey priming over it. The priming is made with white lead with lamp black scattered in the white.

The flesh paint is mostly very pale with occasional particles of vermilion and black. There are occasional glassy particles of pale grey which might be smalt. In the red of the cheek there is an increased proportion of vermilion and a scattering of red lake.
Sample 4: Under the flesh paint there is a cool grey underlayer over the pale grey priming.

Blue background
It was important to establish whether the original background colour was Prussian blue, and therefore from the 18th century, or whether it was indigo.
The background has been considerably restored, but the original overall colour has the appearance of azurite, and the overpaint is Prussian blue. Analysis identified the original blue as indigo.
Samples 2, 3 and 7: Show indigo lying under the brownish red spandrel paint.

Brownish red spandrels
Sample 1: Shows the bright red ochre used in the spandrels.
Sample 3: From the border of blue background and spandrels shows indigo underlying the spandrel paint where it crosses the edge of the blue.

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 painting is very abraded and in places has been extensively retouched, making analysis of the original technique difficult. The blue background is considerably overpainted.

Preparation layers
The painting has a chalk ground and a pale grey priming. This can be seen through the abrasion, a pale grey layer is visible (see micro 04). There is a second darker priming layer beneath the flesh (fine lamp black mixed with lead white) painted over the initial priming.

The underdrawing detected in infrared reflectography (see Infrared reflectography) can be seen through the paint surface in many places (see micro 03). In some areas it is visible through gaps in brushstrokes or in areas of damage. Here it appears to be in a sparkly, dark grey medium. Examining this under the microscope, and comparing it with the infrared reflectography images, it has been suggested that the drawing medium may be graphite (not metalpoint, as suggested with NPG 1727) (see Infrared reflectography). The circle was drawn with a compass and there is a hole in the ear (at the centre of the circle) made by the compass point (see micro 12 and x-ray 01).

Paint layer structure
Flesh paint
The flesh paint contains lead white, vermilion and red lake. There are glassy pale grey particles which may be smalt (see micro 05), and also many transparent inclusions, which could be lead soaps. In the red of the cheek there is an increased proportion of vermilion and a scattering of red lake. At the back of the neck the flesh paint covers blue background paint.

The white of the eye seems to contain white, a lot of black, and some red/orange (see micro 01). This paint has the same craquelure as surrounding areas, but some of it seems to be present in the loss in the corner of the eye. If this is the case, it indicates that the paint was applied after this loss occurred. However, it is possible that some flakes from the edge have fallen/crumbled into the loss and been varnished over.

Background within the circle
Patches of what appear to be the remains of a glaze exist in various places, but in some areas this layer fills cracks, indicating that it is not an original glaze, and could be related to a previous varnish layer. These remnants were probably left after past cleaning campaigns (see micro 09). Some areas at the edge of the hair show traces of original background through gaps in the abraded brown paint. In many places it is not clear if this is original or not, but where it is seen with the priming beneath, it was assumed that it is probably original, (see Paint sampling). Paint sample analysis, using Raman Laser Microscopy, has shown that the original background colour within the circle is indigo, but that there is also a lot of Prussian blue used over it in restoration campaigns.

Outer sections/spandrels
The lines of the circles are incised. In places, vertical lines of the grey priming can be seen where the surface paint has been abraded along the high points of the brushstrokes/wood grain, but where these pass over the lines of the circles, the paint has been protected by being inset into the incised line (see micro 11). The pin hole of the compass point can be seen in the ear.

Order of construction
- Chalk ground
- Mid-grey priming, lamp black and lead white mixture
- Underdrawing
- Cool grey priming under the flesh, with greater proportion of lamp black
- Flesh
- Blue background
- Further flesh modelling
- Hair and beard
- Further background layer
- Red/brown background spandrels

Lead white, lamp black, red ochre, indigo, vermilion, red lake, possibly smalt

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

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

Under ultra violet light, the restoration shows up as dark spots and lines, particularly along the panel join and the repaired split in the middle (see UV 01). The coat of arms in the top-left spandrel can be seen more clearly in ultra violet light than in normal light, but detail is not visible. The blue background in the circle has an opaque, milky greenish white fluorescence. The same fluorescence can be seen in patches where it overlaps into the hair. There is no general fluorescence over the whole surface.


Frame type: Not original.

Frame date: Possibly 19th century.