Perspective: Seeing where you stand

King Henry VIII; King Henry VII
by Hans Holbein the Younger
circa 1536-1537
NPG 4027

This very large drawing is all that survives of one of the most important of Henry VIII's artistic projects. To commemorate the strength and the triumphs of the Tudor dynasty and his own personal splendour, he commissioned Holbein to make a wall painting for the Privy Chamber of Whitehall Palace, it was completed in 1537. This is the preparatory drawing or cartoon for the left-hand section of that painting. Holbein's painting was destroyed in the Whitehall Palace fire of 1698, and the cartoon for the right-hand section has been lost. The appearance of the whole painting is however recorded in a mid-sevententh century copy by Remigius van Leemput (Royal Collection)

King Henry VIII; King Henry VII; Elizabeth of York; Jane Seymour
by George Vertue, after Remigius van Leemput, after Hans Holbein the Younger
NPG D18545

This a copy of what the original Whitehall mural looked like. The Whitehall Palace burnt down in 1698.

The majestic figure of Henry VIII as conceived by Holbein is one of the most memorable images of royalty ever created. The cartoon is on several joined sheets of paper, and the figures of the kings and their faces are cut-outs pasted on to backing paper. It is exactly the same size as the finished version, and was used to transfer Holbein's design to the intended position on the wall. Chalk or charcoal dust was then brushed into holes made by pricking, thus transferring the outline to the wall. This technique was called 'pouncing'. Holbein could then proceed with filling in his design.

Discussion questions

  • Why do you think that this drawing has survived for so long?
  • How can you tell that the drawing portrays a king?
  • Do you think that the way he is posed and the type of clothes he wears reinforce his status as a king?
  • Notice the top of the drawing. Do you think that this depicts real or fantasy architectural space?
  • What technique has Holbein used in order to convince us of the three-dimensionality of the figures?
  • Why do you think that the carpet is rucked-up?
  • Count the number of different jewels shown.
  • Try and imagine the colours that were employed in the final wall painting (mural).
  • What do you think are the advantages of using a technique such as pouncing?

Project A

Make drawings of members of your family.

Take black and white or colour photographs of them together and standing up in a formal setting. This could be of them grouped on the doorstep or arranged somehow within the context of your home. Make sure that you pose them so that the positioning of their bodies communicates their relationship to one another .

Square up your photograph.

Make a large piece of paper (at least 2 x 1 metres ) using smaller pieces that you have stuck together. Square up this piece with the corresponding number of squares that match those in your photograph. Transfer your image, enlarging it.

Using black ink, chalk and charcoal, give your drawing volume by using tonal variations.

Find out about the artist Chuck Close.

Project B

The best thing to use for this project is a good quality hand-made paper, but ordinary sugar paper or cartridge could be used, or you could experiment with making your own paper. 

Do a life-size line drawing of someone's face on a piece of paper.

Take a large pin - you may need to wrap the head end of the pin up with some tape - bandaging it to make a stump. Use this as your hole-making tool.

Prick over the lines of your drawing, with a blank sheet of thick tracing paper underneath, so that, when done, you have your portrait outlined a second time in pin prick holes. You need to space the holes at regular intervals, not more than half a centimetre apart.

Now take a third piece of paper, (either cartridge or hand-made) and put it under the tracing paper.

Force charcoal dust through all of the holes. When you remove the top piece, you will have a transferred image. You could also use this technique to transfer your image onto a wall as the basis for a mural painting. If you made a series of papers with pricked holes, you could have fun turning these into a lampshade, the light shining out of the holes making portrait patterns on the wall.

This technique allows the image to be repeated until the 'pattern' disintegrates.

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