Henry VIII, 1491-1547

A half-length, full-face portrait in a gold doublet, embroidered and slashed, a black bejewelled hat with a white feather and jewels, and a red coat with fur trimming. Round his neck he wears a pendant depicting St George and the Dragon - a motif of national identity.

Henry VIII, second son of Henry VII - the founder of the Tudor dynasty - was born in the medieval palace of Placentia at Greenwich, itself completely rebuilt as Greenwich Palace by his father during his childhood. It was also his principal palace during the early years of his reign. Henry took great interest in his navy. His father had founded Portsmouth dockyard and he created those at Woolwich and Deptford (near Greenwich), and at Chatham, in all of which ships were built primarily for fighting purposes instead of being converted merchantmen. This required a more developed administration and he is generally regarded as the founder of the Royal Navy as distinct from the 'navy royal' of his medieval predecessors.

The king is shown with a shaven head and a beard, innovations he adopted in May 1535 in imitation of Fran├žois I of France. The careful and elaborate painting of the gemmed costume and jewellery is a reminder not only of Henry's passion for such ornaments but was intended to serve as a demonstration of his status and wealth. The portrait is closest to another Holbein-pattern half length in the Galleria Nazionale, Rome, and is inscribed 'HENRICUS VIII ANG. REX'.

Object Details

ID: BHC2763
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Holbein, Hans; studio of Hans Holbein
Date made: 16th century
Exhibition: Guiding Lights
People: Henry VIII
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Frame: 828 mm x 635 mm x 74 mm;Overall: 12 kg;Painting: 660 x 470 mm
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