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Portrait Detectives

Extra Information on 'Henry VIII'

Henry VIIIWho Was The Artist?

Hans Holbein the Younger was Henry VIII's court painter. He first entered the English court in 1526 and became one of Henry's court painters in 1538. For this job Holbein was paid £30 per year - a lot of money at the time. He was valued because of his attention to detail and accuracy. In fact his skills were so prized that Henry sent him to paint possible brides so that he knew what they looked like.

About The Painting

This portrait is a copy of a mural (wall-piece) Holbein painted in Whitehall Palace. This version was not painted by Holbein himself, instead one of his pupils or followers made the copy. It is a bold, full-length standing pose that was very unusual in English royal portraits at the time. It was also special because it does not use traditional symbols like a crown, orb or sceptre to show that Henry is king.

What Is Holbein Telling Us?

It was basically a propaganda (publicity) painting. At the time Henry was 46. He wanted to look young, healthy, elegant and powerful, so he commissioned a painter to make him look that way.

Henry's weight and height (6ft 2ins) are emphasised by painting him larger than life (the painting is almost 8 ft tall). The picture was probably meant to be seen from a low viewpoint. The viewer's eyes would have been level with Henry's hips - just where his dagger and clenched fists rest.

Henry's pose is very confident. His feet are wide apart, his hands are at his hips and he is looking straight at the viewer. His costume is wide and his fists are clenched. This all makes him look very strong and aggressive. Holbein has also made Henry's legs longer and possibly more muscular. This makes his body look slimmer and Henry more elegant.

The overall effect is of a powerful, graceful king. His people would respect him, and with his hand so close to his dagger, his enemies would be afraid of him.

The colours, jewels and fabrics are rich and show Henry's huge wealth. Their great detail, achieved using a very fine brush, emphasises the effect. With so much detail, and allowing time for the oil paint to dry, a painting of this size might have taken up to six months to finish.

This portrait belonged to the family of Jane Seymour. She was Henry's third wife. She was also the mother of his son and one of only two wives that Henry did not divorce or behead. The Walker bought this portrait in 1945.

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