Portrait of Henry VIII is truly Tudor

An oil on panel portrait of King Henry VIII in the Bath’s Victoria Art Gallery long believed to be a 19th century reproduction has been found to be a genuine Tudor-era artwork. It was donated to the Bath & North East Somerset Council in the 1800s and was thought to be a copy of a copy. This particular portrait of Henry was originally a mural in his apartment at Whitehall Palace by the king’s favorite court painter Hans Holbein, but the original is long gone. It was destroyed in the fire that burned down the palace in 1698.

The Whitehall mural was copied by many artists, and once the mural was lost, the copies were copied. The Victoria Art Gallery’s version is of higher quality than most of the other later copies, however, so when the painting had to be sent to specialists for conservation, the council had the wood panels dated using dendrochronology. Counting tree rings and matching their patterns doesn’t always work for thin panels (as opposed to logs or thick timbers), but researchers got lucky this time. The portrait was painted between 1537 and 1557, which makes it one the earliest surviving portraits of Henry VIII, who died exactly halfway through the estimated date range.

The dating of the painting was paid for by the Friends of the Victoria Art Gallery. The Chairman, Michael Rowe, said: “The Friends of the Gallery are committed to supporting original research into the gallery collections and were delighted to fund the dendrochronology. We look forward to further research into the origins of this important picture.”

Councillor Paul Myers, cabinet member for Economic and Community Regeneration, said: “This is one of the oldest and best pictures of Henry VIII in the world, and we are very fortunate to have it in the council’s public art collection. The painting will soon be back on display at the Victoria Art Gallery, where visitors will be able to see it for free in the Upper Gallery.”

3 thoughts on “Portrait of Henry VIII is truly Tudor

  1. I’m admittedly ignorant about the dating of paintings, but doesn’t this method merely date the wood and not necessarily date when the paint was applied to the wood? For example, a modern artist could take a 500-year-old plain wood panel and paint on it today, and this dating method would call it an early 16th-century artwork. Isn’t there a method for dating the paint itself, which would be more accurate than dating the wood?

  2. I am wondering the same thing. As far as I know paints can be dated through the different pigments used, types of paint , etc. Interesting that no mention was made of that.
    I have always been fond of Henry. My maternal grandfather is his spitting image!!

  3. The finest copy of the Whitehall mural is in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. It shows Henry in 1537 as does the one at Belvoir Castle, all subsequent versions, full or 1/2 length portray a Henry ageing. The Chatsworth and Trinity College cambridge versions come next then the Parham and finally the Petworth. In all the full length versions except the one at Petworth Henry’s coat is red velvet, with brown fur, His doublet and skirt in the Walker and the Petworth are silver but all the others it is gold.The coat Petworth painting is blue/black with ermine as in the Bath painting .

    The variants of the 1/2 paintings varies in the same way. The one at Chatsworth is red velvet, brown fur, gold doublet and skirt, the one at Windsor Castle is the same as in Bath. In these the head is is an ageing head and the best version is in Rome painting in which Henry is supposedly wearing his wedding clothes to Anne Of Cleves, Cloth of gold coat with brown fur and red velvet doublet and skirt with gold embroidery. The heads are also the same in the painting that was at Warwick Castle and the one Compton Verney and the small one at Chatsworth but the Coat is buttoned up down the front in all the 1/2 length portraits he wears a different chain over his shoulders to the full length portraits of him. I would most definitely say the head is by the same workshop as the Rome, Chatsworth , and Warwick portraits.

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