526 years ago, on 28 June, Henry VIII was born. This month’s featured work is a recently acquired portrait of the English ruler by Anglo-Flemish school dating from the 16th century (circa 1527 or later).

  • Select Image

Henry VIII is depicted wearing a very fine linen shirt and an asymmetrical doublet with a low neck and gold brocade worn under a matching jerkin. The clothing, specific of the ‘Almain’ style and the accessories, are suitable for the period in which the portrait was made.

The year 1527 was of great importance in Henry VIII’s reign: while his wife Katherine of Aragon was past child-bearing age, his affair with Anne Boleyn was at its peak. Henry had, for some time, been concerned by the lack of a male heir. In January of 1527, Henry launched the first trial of his marriage before Cardinal Wolsey, expecting to be free to wed within months – neither would have guessed that it would take five more years.

While some scholars have pointed out that this may be one of the earliest surviving portraits of Henry VIII, painted in the second decade of his reign, others have contested this view and suggested that it may date from the end of the 16th century. A consensus, however has been reached in that it may have formed part of a set depicting European rulers of the early 16th century.

In his iconographic study of Henry VIII, Roy Strong classifies this portrait as ‘Type II’, of which it is one of two from the same pattern. He notes: the origins of this face pattern are obscure… Both seem to be the work of foreign artists. The Latin inscription suggests that the painting was produced for the European continent as it identifies Henry as the king of England.

In the first half of the 20th century this portrait formed part of the collection of the renowned American journalist and collector William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951). The portrait entered his collection in 1927 where it remained until 1941 when Hearst’s empire teetered near bankruptcy in 1937.