Henry VIII Revealed

24 January to 30 March 2003

Please note that this exhibition has now closed

detail of painting of the king

Unknown, painted between 1537-1562? oil on 6 oak planks, 238.2 x 134.2cm, Walker Art Gallery (detail)

King Henry VIII is one of the best known and most recognisable monarchs in world history. The exhibition Henry VIII Revealed brought together four of the finest portraits of this phenomenal ruler, whose infamous public and private affairs still fascinate.

How did Henry generate and project such a powerful image? How did a record of King Henry’s striking appearance and breath-taking presence survive through the centuries to the present day?

Henry VIII Revealed looked at the definitive Henry VIII portrait, its origin, influence and legacy. The best known is Walker Art Gallery’s own stunning painting, based on the Holbein mural at Whitehall Palace which was destroyed by a fire more than 300 years ago.

Holbein’s Whitehall mural was commissioned and officially endorsed by the king. It was the first life-size full-length portrait of a monarch to be created in England. It underlined his power and majesty and was reported to have struck awe into the hearts of those that saw it. To this day this image remains the archetypal Henry VIII pose and was even featured in Shekhar Kapur’s blockbuster movie, 'Elizabeth'.

The Walker Art Gallery’s Henry VIII portrait was conserved and restored by experts at Liverpool’s Conservation Centre, leading to a number of new findings about it. The exhibition was the result of a collaboration between art historians and art conservators and was accompanied by an in depth catalogue. Find out more about this on the Paintings conservation web pages.

There were three other major Henry portraits on show, from Petworth, Chatsworth and Trinity College Cambridge, as well as the Leemput copy of Hobein's mural from the Royal Collection.

Henry VIII Revealed featured a copy of Holbein’s original mural. Genuine drawings by Holbein for jewellery and dagger sheaths were shown, as well as two of Henry’s personal belongings - his illustrated Psalter prayer book and an astrolabe astronomical instrument. A Turkish carpet similar to the one in Walker Art Gallery’s portrait was also displayed.

Henry VIII Revealed was sponsored by BWD Rensburg Investment Management.

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Exhibition sponsor

Henry VIII Revealed was sponsored by BWD Rensburg Investment Management.