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After Hans Holbein the Younger
(circa 1497-1543)
Henry VIII

circa 1560

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This portrait is a version of the last official portrait painted of Henry VIII, who reigned as King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547.  Holbein became court painter to Henry VIII by 1536 at the latest, receiving a regular salary.  As court painter, one of his duties was to produce portraits of potential wives for the King’s approval before they would meet. Henry married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon in 1509 and famously went on to have five more wives.

The original of this painting was finished shortly before Holbein’s death in 1543 but it was copied many times, probably using a pattern for the face created by Holbein himself and approved by Henry VIII as an acceptable image, as well as an established model for his dress. Although Henry has the appearance of wearing an official uniform, this did not really exist apart from the King’s Coronation robes, therefore this is most likely one of the Henry’s favourite suits. Henry is a dominating figure dressed in a surcoat (or overgarment) lined with ermine and embroidered with gold thread. He wears a jewelled cap and an enamelled gold chain and carries a decorated staff, which both symbolised his status and helped the increasingly gout-ridden king to walk.

A contemporary, Edward Hall, described his rich appearance in 1540: “His person was apparelled in a coat of purple velvet, somewhat made like a frock, all over embroidered with flat gold of damask with small lace mixed between of the same gold… the sleeves and breast were lined with cloth of gold, and tied together with great buttons of diamonds, rubies and orient pearl.”

This portrait was produced during the early part of the reign of Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I (1558-1603), most likely to reaffirm the strength of the Protestant side of the family after the short rule of the Catholic Queen Mary (1553-1558).

Tudor artists would use court-sanctioned stencils as a way of creating an image that was pleasing to the king.  Choose an image for your pupils to create a punched-hole stencil from, then use chalk rubbed through the holes to make a dot to dot, is each picture made from the stencil the same?
Henry VIII was interested in doing lots of activities such as football, jousting, hunting, wrestling and playing music.  Ask your pupils to find a celebrity they are interested in and see if they can find out the sorts of things they like to do.
after Hans Holbein the Younger, Henry VIII, circa 1560
Materials and technique: Oil on panel
Dimensions: 99.6 x 74 cm
Compton Verney: CVCSC:0192.B
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