Edward, the sole legitimate son of Henry VIII, was born on October 12, 1537 and crowned Edward VI in 1547. This portrait shows the future king at age six, when he was still the Duke of Cornwall. It was subsequently adapted in costume to reflect Edward’s stature at the time of his coronation. The roundel format and the sitter’s profile pose evoke the coinage of classical antiquity, admired at the Tudor court. The panel was once considered an autograph work by Holbein. Technical evidence, however, suggests it was painted after his death by a workshop assistant, based on an earlier design by the master.
According to the inscription on a related drawing in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (RCIN 912202), as well as a series of other paintings of the sitter, this profile portrait shows the future king Edward VI. He is shown here in 1543, at the age of six, when he was still the Duke of Cornwall. Edward was the sole legitimate son of King Henry VIII; his mother, Jane Seymour, died just twelve days after giving birth. Edward has often been considered a weakling in poor health, but more recent assessments have described him as a vigorous youth, celebrated for his intellect, in particular a gift for languages and a strong interest in theology. Upon Henry’s death in 1547, young Edward became king, but the affairs of court were mainly handled in his name, first by his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and then by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Under them the English Reformation was consolidated, a move completely in line with Edward’s own fervent commitment to Protestantism. The boy king’s reign was cut short by a deadly lung infection that took him, in a matter of months, in July 1553.
Although Edward’s life was brief, a significant number of surviving portraits attest to his importance as Henry’s only male heir and lawful successor, as well as the reigning king during the reestablishment of the Protestant faith. Only some of the extant portraits were produced during Edward’s lifetime, the majority having been made posthumously. Holbein painted the earliest known of these (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and probably presented it to Henry in January 1539, as a New Year’s present. The later official state portraits show either a bust-length profile or a full-length standing figure facing the viewer. The first group of such portraits may have been painted to accommodate requests from foreign ambassadors hoping to facilitate marriage negotiations, while those produced around 1547 were linked to Edward’s coronation and the official medals struck for that occasion. The profile pose derived from a growing interest, developing late in Holbein’s career, in the antique and in a classicizing mode for portraiture.
Problematic issues of attribution and date surround this portrait. Early on, the painting was widely accepted as an autograph work by Holbein. A somewhat romantic view, deeming it the artist’s last work, completed just prior to the prince’s birthday in 1543, was based on a lost drawing by Holbein of which the Windsor Castle version is a copy. As early as 1929, however, some scholars rejected the Museum’s portrait as autograph, and in more recent times, with progressively greater scrutiny of Holbein’s oeuvre, this view has gained supporters.
The doubts concerning the portrait are based in part on new technical evidence. Holbein’s standard working procedure was to transfer the sitter’s main features from a drawing directly onto a panel, using a stylus to reinforce the contour lines of the drawing and an interleafing carbon-coated sheet that deposited the carbon material onto the grounded panel. In this work, however, an x-radiograph (see Additional Images) shows that the contours of the head were incised directly into the ground preparation of the painting, indicating a slight variation on Holbein’s standard method of design transfer. Furthermore, despite the attractive design of the bold profile view, the handling and execution are rather weak and nowhere recall Holbein’s typical level of finish and his subtly blended tones that achieve a lifelike modeling of the face.
The presumed date of the painting came into question when Strong (1965 and 1967) asserted that the background was repainted, rendering the inscription questionable, and that the sitter’s costume was altered. Recent technical study through x-radiography, infrared reflectography, and microscope examination has revealed that the background and inscription (though restored) are original to the painting. Strong’s observation that Edward’s costume was altered is correct. However, his contention that the original design showed a later style of costume—that is, of the type associated with the portraits of the king by Guillim Scrots—is open to question. Some of the changes made to the costume can be seen with the naked eye as pentimenti, while others are visible only with x-radiography and infrared reflectography, which showed that the figure originally wore a plain, dark open-front jacket revealing a white tunic. The collar of the jacket projected farther out behind the neck and opened lower in the front. Subsequently, the dark jacket was replaced by a red vest, leaving an altered portion of the white shirt with its raised neckline. A wide fur collar containing lead white pigment was added, extending out onto the blue background. The arc of the cap was also shortened to meet the edge of the forehead at a higher point. The revised costume, particularly the ermine-trimmed jacket, represents Edward as he was more usually depicted after his coronation in 1547.
It seems quite likely, then, that the Museum’s painting originated as the earlier portrait type of Edward VI at age six in 1543. The portrait was subsequently adapted in costume to reflect his new stature at the time of his coronation. Perhaps it was then that the background was overpainted with the greenish-black paint mentioned by Borenius in 1923. This paint application would have appropriately covered the inscription, which, now that it is again revealed with the removal of the overpaint, does not match the later state of the costume.
Scrots, Holbein’s successor at the court of Henry VIII, has been associated with the series of profile portraits of Edward VI, of which the Museum’s example appears to be the earliest. This artist is best known for the anamorphic portrait of Edward (National Portrait Gallery, London), which is quite close in type to the present work, a similarity that accounts for the attribution to Scrots of the profile type of Edward VI’s portrait. Yet, even making allowances for the unusual anamorphic form, the handling of the paint and the execution of the London portrait are extremely loose and not nearly as refined as in the Museum’s painting.
Neither painted by Holbein nor by Scrots, this work is most likely by a talented assistant in Holbein’s workshop who remained active after his master’s death and who would have had access to the pattern drawings on which the portrait was based. After Henry VIII’s death, Holbein’s drawings passed on to Edward, who apparently made them available to subsequent court painters for the production of his many profile portraits. This would explain how the Windsor Castle drawing, an example associated with the Holbein workshop, could have been the basis for the many profile portraits made after Holbein’s death and during Edward’s reign, when Scrots and his workshop were active.
[2013; adapted from Ainsworth 2013]
The panel support is made of two boards of Baltic oak from the same tree, with the grain oriented horizontally. Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible fabrication date of 1545. The reverse displays tool marks and is beveled around the perimeter. A horizontal split, approximately 7.6 centimeters from the bottom edge, has been repaired with narrow oak wedges and two butterfly inserts.
The ground preparation is white. Examination of the chipped paint along the perimeter with the stereomicroscope and x-radiography (see Additional Images, fig. 1) revealed an overall priming layer containing lead white. Beneath the blue background is an additional gray layer followed by a white layer.
Examination with raking light, as well as the x-radiograph, showed that the profile of the sitter was inscribed in the ground, suggesting it was traced from a drawing.
The painting is abraded throughout, particularly in the flesh, the background, and the darks. Details are muted, although in some areas the fine brushwork remains intact. Pinpoint losses in the red doublet expose dark underlying paint from the initial costume. Examination of the inscription with the stereomicroscope showed that the original gold leaf has been extensively restored using shell gold.
Infrared reflectography (see Additional Images, fig. 2) revealed what appear to be a few drawn lines along the profile and around the curve of the ear. An area was left in reserve for the feather decorating the hat. Extensive changes to the clothing were seen both with the naked eye and with the aid of infrared reflectography and x-radiography.
[art dealer, Hampstead, as by Joos van Cleve; until 1923; sold for £300 to Lee]; Viscount Lee of Fareham, White Lodge, Richmond, Surrey (1923–28; cat., 1923, no. 44; sold for $150,000 to Duveen); [Duveen, London and New York, 1928; sold for $146,845.55 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1928–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 32; 1943, no. 31)
London. Thos. Agnew & Sons. "Loan Exhibition of Pictures by Old Masters," May–June 1925, no. 32.
New York. Kleinberger Galleries. "Loan Exhibition of German Primitives," November 1928, no. 46A (as by Hans Holbein the Younger, lent by Jules S. Bache).
Art Gallery of Toronto. "A Loan Collection of Paintings by Old Masters, Contemporary American Paintings and Modern English Woodblocks," January 1929, no. 8 (as by Hans Holbein the Younger, lent by Jules S. Bache, New York).
New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 200 (as by Hans Holbein the Younger, lent by the Jules S. Bache Collection, New York).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 31.
City Art Museum of St. Louis. "40 Masterpieces: A Loan Exhibition of Paintings from American Museums," October 6–November 10, 1947, no. 23 (as by Hans Holbein the Younger).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Works by Holbein & Other Masters of the 16th and 17th Centuries," December 9, 1950–March 7, 1951, no. 14 (as by Hans Holbein the Younger).
Paul Ganz. "Ein unbekanntes Herrenbildnis von Hans Holbein d. J." Jahrbuch fuer Kunst und Kunstpflege in der Schweiz (1921–24), p. 294, mentions it as one of two roundels in large format by Holbein that recently appeared in England [the other is now MMA 49.7.28].
Tancred Borenius. A Catalogue of the Pictures, Etc. at 18 Kensington Palace Gardens, London, Collected by Viscount and Viscountess Lee of Fareham. Vol. 1, [Oxford], 1923, unpaginated, no. 44, ill., notes that when Lord Lee bought this picture in 1922, a great deal of overpaint—"some of it dating apparently from the eighteenth century"— was removed and the restorer Nico Jungman "found underneath . . . the original and present surface of the picture"; publishes the opinion of Ganz [see Ref. 1923].
Ruth Lee. Journal entry. January 26, 1923 [privately printed in "A Good Innings and a Great Partnership, Being the Life Story of Arthur and Ruth Lee," 1939–40, and subsequently published in "'A Good Innings': The Private Papers of Viscount Lee of Fareham," ed. Alan Clark, London, 1974, p. 235], reports on the purchase "a week or two ago" of this roundel for £300 in Hampstead [vendor unspecified]; notes that the owner was advised by [M. J.] Friedländer that it was the work of Joos van Cleve, but that Lord Lee found it "more suggestive of Holbein"; adds [presumably later, for the private printing of the book in 1939] that they sold the picture "some six years later" to Duveen for $150,000.
Arthur B. Chamberlain. Letter to Lord Lee. July 23, 1924, calls it "one of the very greatest works by Holbein I have seen".
R. W. "A Catalogue of the Pictures, etc., at 18, Kensington Palace Gardens, London, 1923." Burlington Magazine 45 (August 1924), p. 94.
Paul Ganz. "The Last Work of Hans Holbein the Younger." Apollo 2 (July–December 1925), pp. 326–27, ill. in color opp. p. 326 [largely derived from Ref. Ganz 1923; reprinted in Ganz 1926], as probably painted about the same time as the roundel portrait in the Sachs collection [now MMA 49.7.28].
Max J. Friedländer. Letter to Lord Lee. June 25, 1925, is "quite convinced that this picture is an original" by Holbein.
Tancred Borenius. "A Portrait by Holbein." Apollo 3 (January–June 1926), p. 249.
Paul Ganz in Tancred Borenius. A Catalogue of the Pictures, Etc. at 18 Kensington Palace Gardens, London, Collected by Viscount and Viscountess Lee of Fareham. Vol. 2, [Oxford], 1926, unpaginated, between nos. 98 and 99 [text reprinted from Ref. Ganz 1925], ill. (color, frontispiece).
R. W. "A Catalogue of the Pictures, Etc., at 18 Kensington Palace Gardens, London, Vol. II ." Burlington Magazine (November 1926), p. 254.
R. R. Tatlock. "Some Pictures in Lord Lee's Collection." Art News 26 (April 14, 1928), p. 4, ill. opp. p. 3.
"22 Holbeins Here." Art Digest (December 1, 1928), p. 14.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill.
Wilhelm Stein. Holbein. Berlin, 1929, p. 310, rejects the attribution to Holbein, suggesting that our painting and a drawing of Edward in Windsor Castle may be by the artist who made the profile drawing of Henry Howard in the Morgan collection.
Frank E. Washburn Freund. "Austellung altdeutscher Malerei in den F. Kleinberger Galleries zu New York." Belvedere 8 (1929), p. 286, ill. opp. p. 287, as by Holbein.
August L. Mayer. "Die Sammlung Jules Bache in New-York." Pantheon 6 (December 1930), p. 542.
H. E. Wortham. "The Bache Collection." Apollo 11 (May 1930), p. 354, fig. 5, as "perhaps the most famous picture in Mr. Bache's gallery".
Royal Cortissoz. "The Jules S. Bache Collection." American Magazine of Art 21 (May 1930), p. 260, ill. p. 259, remarks that this panel "reveals Holbein practicing a daintiness unusual in his work".
Philip Hendy. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Catalogue of the Exhibited Paintings and Drawings. Boston, 1931, p. 186.
Oswald Götz. "Holbeins Bildnis des Simon George of Quocoute: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Rundbildes in der Renaissance." Städel-Jahrbuch 7–8 (1932), pp. 126–27, 148 n. 123, fig. 90, attributes it to Holbein and believes that the Windsor drawing, though worked over, is also by him.
Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 84, no. 379, pl. 80, dates it about 1543 and notes that the attribution to Holbein himself is debatable.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 32, ill.
George Henry McCall. Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800: Masterpieces of Art. Ed. William R. Valentiner. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1939, pp. 96–97, no. 200, as probably Holbein's last work.
Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 224, ill.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 31, ill.
Paul Ganz. "Holbein and Henry VIII." Burlington Magazine 83 (November 1943), p. 272.
K. T. Parker. The Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle. London, 1945, p. 58, under no. 85, mentions this painting as not universally accepted, but very greatly superior to the "feeble drawing" of the prince at Windsor; considers Holbein's authorship of the drawing "manifestly impossible"; notes that the pose of the prince in both works is the same, while the expression and the details of costume and headdress differ.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 222–23, ill., as painted by Holbein in the last year of his life.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 431, no. 1155, ill.
Paul Ganz. The Paintings of Hans Holbein. London, 1950, pp. 256–57, no. 128, pl. 169, attributes it to Holbein.
F. Grossmann. "Holbein Studies—II." Burlington Magazine 93 (April 1951), p. 113, attributes our portrait to Holbein himself, observing that "it has suffered much [but] the pentimenti permit the assertion of Holbein's authorship with some confidence"; believes that Holbein's last drawing of Edward VI, on which our portrait is based, has been lost and that profile portraits in the National Portrait Gallery (No. 442), Victoria and Albert Museum (Jones Collection, No. 497), and at Knole reproduce another version, probably based on the same lost drawing.
A. Hyatt Mayor. "The Gifts that Made the Museum." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 16 (November 1957), p. 106, attributes it to Holbein and calls it one of his "alarming psychological masterpieces".
Ellis K. Waterhouse. Letter to Colin Eisler. October 9, 1959, rejects it as a Holbein, and wonders if it did not go through heavy restoration before and while it was with Duveen; considers it a key picture in understanding the mysterious period immediately after Holbein's death, when there is some evidence of pupils "able to do near-Holbeins, but this gift certainly evaporated very quickly".
Roy Strong. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. June 16, 1965, notes that he is "trying hard not to see something sinister in the transformations to [this painting visible in the x-radiograph; see Ref. Strong 1967] . . . , i.e. the age and date just within Holbein's lifetime and the alteration of the dress to a collar slightly earlier in date—the Holbein Henry VIII type collar," but has "little doubt that this portrait started its life as a version of the Scrots profile pattern which would suggest that the inscription is entirely a later addition"; observes that the Scrots type came into circulation in 1546 and that there is a distorted profile version of it in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Roy Strong. "Holbein in England—III to V." Burlington Magazine 109 (December 1967), pp. 701–2, no. IV, figs. 57 (x-radiograph), 58, notes that the x-radiograph "reveals a technique of painting untenable in comparison with authentic instances of [Holbein's] work"; calls the white collar an alteration or later addition, observing that visible beneath it is a standing collar of the type worn by Edward VI in profile portraits of him attributed to Holbein's successor as court painter, William Scrots; further comments that examination of the paint surface of our panel "established that the blue background had been entirely repainted and that the status of the present inscription, although reinforced, is uncertain".
Roy Strong. Tudor & Jacobean Portraits. London, 1969, vol. 1, p. 93, calls our picture the earliest of the profile portraits of Edward VI and observes that "further investigation is needed to establish the final status of this problematic picture"; notes that the costume visible in the x-radiograph seems slightly later in date than that on the painted surface, and is close to the dress in the other versions, from about 1546; observes that this portrait type relates to the non-Holbein drawing at Windsor and lists portraits of Edward that are close to or nearly identical to the drawing; suggests they all go back to a pattern by William Scrots, first recorded as King's Painter in 1545–46, although known versions are by various hands.
Hans Werner Grohn inL'opera pittorica completa di Holbein il Giovane. Milan, 1971, p. 110, no. 146, ill. p. 110 (overall and x-radiograph) and colorpl. LXI.
Douglas Hall. Hans Holbein, German School. rev. ed. London, 1971, pp. 12–13, fig. 8.
K. T. Parker with an appendix by Susan Foister inThe Drawings of Hans Holbein in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. London, 1983, p. 58, under no. 85, finds the connection between the drawing, our painting, and the profile of Henry Howard in the Morgan Library [see Ref. Stein 1929] unconvincing.
Susan Foister. Drawings by Holbein from the Royal Library Windsor Castle. London, 1983, p. 46, under no. 85, rejects the Windsor drawing as a work of Holbein and notes that "it resembles the image of Edward in a circular portrait formerly attributed to Holbein in the Metropolitan Museum . . . and may be connected with it".
John Rowlands. Holbein: The Paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger. Oxford, 1985, pp. 95, 235–36, no. R. 35, pl. 243, lists it with rejected works and calls it "probably the best version of a series of profile portraits of Edward, executed after Holbein's death, which according to Strong [Ref. 1969] derived from the studio of William Scrots; calls the artist responsible for our portrait "certainly one of the better of Holbein's immediate successors".
Colin Simpson. Artful Partners: Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen. New York, 1986, pp. 209–10, 295 [excerpt published in Connoisseur 216 (October 1986), p. 128, ill. p. 127 (color); British ed., "The Partnership: The Secret Association of Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen," London, 1987].
Maryan Ainsworth. "'Paternes for phiosioneamyes': Holbein's Portraiture Reconsidered." Burlington Magazine 132 (March 1990), p. 182 n. 52, pp. 185–86, notes that the pose and scale of the Windsor drawing and our painting are the same, as confirmed by a photostat overlay, but the painted profile is incised while the drawing is not; concludes that some other intermediary sheet was used, and that the Windsor drawing was perhaps the product of a transfer from the original drawing.
Roy Strong. Tudor & Stuart Portraits, 1530–1660. Exh. cat., Weiss Gallery. London, 1995, unpaginated, under no. 7, mentions our portrait in relation to a profile portrait of Edward (private collection, England) from the studio of William Scrots, noting that penimenti in our panel reveal a similar kind of upstanding collar; remarks that the contour of the profile has been incised in the Scrots portraits and in ours, suggesting that they were copied from a now lost original.
Meryle Secrest. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004, p. 449.
Peter Klein. Letter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. May 3, 2006, as the result of dendrochronological analysis concludes that the youngest heartwood ring was formed in the year 1534, and that with a minimum of 2 years for seasoning, an earliest creation date for the painting would be 1545.
Maryan W. Ainsworth inGerman Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 158–61, 307, no. 38, ill. (color) and figs. 133–34 (x-radiograph and infrared reflectogram).