Hans Holbein the Younger Henry VIII

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8–1543)
Henry VIII c.1537

Lent by the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Hans Holbein the Younger Queen Jane Seymour

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8–1543)
Queen Jane Seymour c.1536–7

Lent by the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Gemäldegalerie

Holbein was probably working for Henry VIII again soon after his return to England in 1532. Payment books survive only from 1538 onwards and show Holbein received £30 a year paid quarterly, a substantial sum, but no document tells us what his duties were. Nevertheless, as the works shown in the previous room reveal, Holbein participated in many of the tasks required of court artists in Renaissance Europe: he designed precious metalwork used by the King, from daggers to table fountains and even a fireplace. Holbein’s highly-valued position as painter to the king evidently did not preclude his extensive private practice as a portraitist.

In 1537–9 there was a sudden flurry of royal portrait commissions. The life-size wall painting at Whitehall Place, destroyed by fire in 1698, asserted the triumph of the Tudor dynasty, while Holbein’s overbearing image of Henry ensured his visual immortality. Following Jane Seymour’s death in 1537, Holbein was sent on missions to portray her prospective successors as Queen, but only his portraits of Christina, Duchess of Milan and Anne of Cleves have survived. Holbein’s wittily staged portrait of Henry’s long-awaited heir, Prince Edward, was evidently a personal New Year gift from the artist, rather than a royal commission.