HOLBEIN, Hans the Younger
(b. 1497, Augsburg, d. 1543, London)

Jane Seymour, Queen of England

1536
Oil on wood, 65,5 x 40,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Jane Seymour (1509-1537) was the third wife of King Henry VIII of England and mother of King Edward VI. She succeeded - where Henry's previous wives had failed - in providing a legitimate male heir to the throne.

Jane's father was Sir John Seymour of Wolf Hall, Savernake, Wiltshire. She became a lady in waiting to Henry's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and then to Anne Boleyn, who married the King in 1533. Henry probably became attracted to Jane in 1535, when he visited her father at Wolf Hall, but, though willing to marry him, she refused to be his mistress. That determination undoubtedly helped bring about Anne Boleyn's downfall and execution (May 19, 1536). On May 30, 1536, Henry and Jane were married privately.

During the remaining 17 months of her life Jane managed to restore Mary, Henry's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, to the King's favour. Mary was a Roman Catholic, and some scholars have interpreted Jane's intercession to mean that she had little sympathy with the English Reformation. The future Edward VI was born on October 12, 1537, but, to Henry's genuine sorrow, Jane died 12 days later.

Holbein executed this portrait shortly after the marriage of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. In attitude and expression, the Seymour portrait matches that in the Whitehall composition, but the portraits differ in the arrangement of the bonnet veil; this individual portrait follows the preparatory study in the Royal Collection in Windsor Castle. This change is important only from a compositional point of view, and probably derived from Holbein himself. However, the major changes in tonality and patterns in Jane's gown will probably have been undertaken only after consultation with the client.

Holbein's portrait depicts a figure frozen in an official sense of responsibility. The simplicity of the shadowed background accentuates the increasing richness and boldness of design and adornment in Henrician court fashion, and the artist's skill is pre-eminent in creating the sheen and lustre of the precious stones. Great attention has been paid to the realism of the silver thread in the queen's dress, and this new opulence was to be echoed in the portrait of Henry himself.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 12 minutes):
Gaetano Donizetti: Anna Bolena, Act II, Jane Seymour's aria