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

Portrait of Henry VIII

Oil on panel, 89 x 75 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

This painting was one of a group of English portraits carried out by Holbein and his school. Though German, Holbein was court painter to King Henry VIII of England, and the prototype for this image is his lost mural that once decorated the Privy Chamber of Whitehall Palace in London. Carried out in 1537, that wall painting depicted the king with his third wife Jane Seymour, the only one of Henry's queens to bear him a male heir. Of the numerous paintings derived from that prototype, including a copy at Windsor Castle, this is without doubt the one of highest quality. The closest example to the prototype, on the other hand, is the portrait in the Thyssen collection in Madrid, which this version approaches especially in the rendering of the details of the collar (these passages were later modified, as is visible through reflectography).

The Barberini portrait depicts the king in the same costume that he wore for his April, 1540, wedding to Anne of Cleves. The painting can thus be related to Duren's 1539 marriage portrait of Anne of Cleves (Louvre Museum, Paris), carried out in small dimensions and on canvas as it was meant to be transported.

The attribution of the Rome version has been the subject of much discourse. It was considered to be an autograph work of Holbein, a copy of a lost original, the work of the master's workshop, the work of a close collaborator. An official engraving cut after this composition (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), adherent in its details to the Barberini picture, confirms the importance of this version of the image to the iconography of the king. Moreover, reflectographic examination of the painting has revealed characteristic underdrawing and other details that strongly suggest that the work is an autograph Holbein.

The painting bears the inscription "ANNO ETATIS SUAE XLIX" (His year of age, 49).

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