One of the most famous English monarchs of all times is definitely Henry VIII, the man who introduced Anglicanism by breaking with Rome and the pope; the man who married six wives and executed two of them; the father of Elizabeth I and Bloody Mary.
Henry VIII’s reign however started traditionally. The young king followed his father’s footsteps in almost everything. He married his brother’s widow, the Spanish Princess, Katharine of Aragon, made himself defender of the Catholic faith and supported humanist learning.
In art too, Henry VIII and his court seemed to follow tradition. The portrait below dates from c 1520 and in both style and posture it resembles the representations of Henry VII.
|Henry VIII, unknown artist, c 1520, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, London|
Change in Henry VIII’s reign started in the 1530’s and the reforms in religion and the king’s own growing power as head of both the earthly and spiritual domains is mirrored in art. Hans Holbein the younger, an artist from Germany, is credited with transforming royal iconography. The so called Thyssen portrait below from 1536 is radically different from any earlier representations of English monarchs. Henry VIII dominates the picture, his broad shoulders breaking the boundaries of the canvas showing his vigour, determination and strength. He looks straight at the viewer, his face turned in a three quarter view. Even the treatment of the clothes is different. Holbein shows all the luxury of the king’s garments and jewelry with great detail and the artist has even used real gold in certain parts of the painting.
|'The Thyssen Portrait', Hans Holbein, c. 1536, oil on panel, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano|
Lloyd, C. and Thurley, S. 1990. Henry VIII. Images of a Tudor King. Oxford: Phaidon
Wooding, L. 2009. Henry VIII. London and New York: Routledge
Tudor England: Images, Portraits of King Henry VIII, available online at: