Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Thomas Wriothesley (1505–1550), First Earl of Southampton

Hans Holbein the Younger (German, Augsburg 1497/98–1543 London)
ca. 1535
Vellum laid on card
Irregular, cut down, 1 1/8 x 1 in. (28 x 25 mm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1925
Accession Number:
Not on view
This miniature, which is widely ascribed to Holbein, is based on a drawing by him in the Louvre, Paris. It has apparently been cut down to fit an oval frame. Wriothesley (1508–1550), who was Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal, acted as Henry VIII's executor and privy counselor to Edward VI.
Thomas Wriothesley (1505–1550), first earl of Southampton, rose to power in the court of Henry VIII under the influence of Thomas Cromwell, earl of Essex, and was enriched through the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1538 he was sent as ambassador to the Netherlands to propose marriage between Henry VIII and Christina, duchess of Milan, whose portrait (National Gallery, London) Holbein had painted for the king. The present miniature may date a year or two earlier. Wriothesley became lord chancellor in 1544, but his position was weakened by the death of Henry VIII in 1547, and he died in disgrace three years later.

This is a miniature version of the drawing of Wriothesley by Holbein in the Cabinet des Dessins, Musée du Louvre, Paris (no. RF 4651). Most unusually for a sixteenth-century work the miniature's provenance can be traced to the sitter, whose identity has not been questioned. (When lent to the exhibition of portrait miniatures at the South Kensington Museum in 1865, it was described as a portrait of a gentleman in a furred dress, and the correct name was supplied by Sir George Scharf.)

The attribution to Holbein has not passed without challenge, although it is accepted as his work in most of the literature. Goulding (1919–20) questioned it on the ground that Wriothesley is wearing the same ermine-lined mantle as in an anonymous portrait at Woburn Abbey showing him after he received the Garter in 1545, two years after Holbein's death. However, Wortley (1930) disposes of this argument, pointing out that the Garter is not shown in the miniature, which was therefore painted before 1545—in fact by 1543, the year of Holbein's death. More recently Rowlands (1985) listed it among the miniatures he rejects from Holbein's oeuvre, finding in it a similarity of handling with Hilliard's self-portrait of 1577. Foister (2006) also rejects the attribution to Holbein. In fact, the miniature has been cut down, and the background has probably been repainted. Its appearance is therefore initially unlike Holbein's generally accepted miniatures which are, with one exception, circular; here the features fit uncomfortably into the reduced format. But the exquisite delicacy of the brushwork, the finesse of rendering in the variations of costume, the thin brushstrokes in the hair, the slender outline of the nose, and the subtly modulated gray shadowing on the face all establish that, although it has suffered around the edges, it remains a miniature portrait in Holbein's finest style.

[2015; adapted from Reynolds and Baetjer 1996]
The slight light blue rim at left of the sitter's head is due to repainting. The original edge may have suffered from damp, necessitating the cutting down of the miniature.

[2015; adapted from Reynolds and Baetjer 1996]
the sitter, Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, London (until d. 1550); Earls of Southampton (1550–1624); Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton (1624–d. 1667); his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Wriothesley (1667–d. 1682/83); her widower, Edward Noel, 1st Earl of Gainsborough (1682/83–d. 1688/89); their son, Wriothesley Baptist Noel, 2nd Earl of Gainsborough (1688/89–d. 1690); his cousin, Baptist Noel, 3rd Earl of Gainsborough (1690–d. 1714); his daughter, Lady Susan Noel (1714–d. 1758); her widower, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 4th Earl of Shaftesbury, Wimborne St. Giles, Dorset (1758–d. 1771); Earls of Shaftesbury, Wimborne St. Giles (1771–1851); Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, Wimborne St. Giles (1851–about 1875; sold to Cook); Sir Francis Cook, Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey (about 1875–d. 1901); his son, Wyndham Francis Cook, London (1901–d. 1905); his son, Humphrey Wyndham Cook, London (1905–25; his sale, Christie's, London, July 7–10, 1925, no. 307, for £283.10 to Agnew); [Agnew and Sabin, London, 1925; sold to MMA]
London. South Kensington Museum. "Portrait Miniatures," June 1865, no. 2093 (as "Portrait of a Gentleman in a Furred Dress," lent by the Earl of Shaftesbury).

London. Burlington Fine Arts Club. "Portrait Miniatures," 1889, no. 8 (lent by Sir Francis Cook).

New York. Pierpont Morgan Library. "Holbein and the Court of Henry VIII," April 21–July 30, 1983, no. 4.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 5, 1996–January 5, 1997, no. 6.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "In Miniature," August 29–December 28, 2014, no catalogue.

George Scharf. A Descriptive and Historical Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures at Woburn Abbey. [London], 1890, p. 5, under no. 5, identifies the sitter as Thomas Wriothesley, based on an anonymous portrait of him at Woburn Abbey.

Gerald S. Davies. Hans Holbein the Younger. London, 1903, p. 218.

George C. Williamson. The History of Portrait Miniatures. London, 1904, vol. 1, p. 11, mentions a miniature attributed to Holbein in the Cook collection, probably this work.

A. B. Skinner in Catalogue of the Art Collection, 8, Cadogan Square, S.W. Vol. 1, [London], 1904, pp. 110, 147, no. 665.

Dudley Heath. Miniatures. London, 1905, p. 96, mentions a miniature attributed to Holbein in the Cook collection, probably this work.

Richard W. Goulding. "Wriothesley Portraits: Authentic and Reputed." Walpole Society 8 (1919–20), p. 47, no. B.ii, pl. XIII, states that the attribution to Holbein is improbable, since Holbein died in 1543, and Wriothesley wears in this miniature the same ermine-lined mantle that he wears in the Woburn Abbey portrait, representing the sitter after his election in 1545 as a Knight of the Garter.

Bedford. "Bevorstehende Versteigerung der Sammlung Humphrey W. Cook, Esqu., bei Christie in London." Kunstchronik und Kunstmarkt, n.s., 35 (June 27, 1925), p. 241.

Bryson Burroughs. "A Miniature by Holbein." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 21 (April 1926), pp. 98–99, ill. on cover, attributes it to Holbein and gives provenance; comments that the miniature was probably originally circular, adding that the Louvre study was at one time trimmed close to the outline of the head; dates the MMA miniature between 1530 and 1540.

H. C. Marillier. "Christie's" 1766 to 1925. London, 1926, p. 228.

Basil S. Long. British Miniaturists. London, 1929, pp. 214–15, states that it "seems to be plausibly ascribed to Holbein," and notes that it was probably once circular.

Wilhelm Stein. Holbein. Berlin, 1929, p. 267.

Clare Stuart Wortley. "The Portrait of Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, by Holbein." Burlington Magazine 57 (August 1930), pp. 82, 85–86, pl. A, finds Goulding's reasons for questioning the attribution to Holbein unconvincing, since the Garter does not appear in the miniature.

Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 84, no. 381, as by Holbein; dates it after 1537.

Paul Ganz. Die Handzeichnungen Hans Holbeins d.J.: Kritischer Katalog. Berlin, 1937, p. 20, under no. 87, calls it a repetition by Holbein of a lost oil painting based on the Louvre drawing.

Louis Demonts. Inventaire général des dessins des écoles du Nord: écoles allemande et suisse. Vol. 1, Paris, 1937, p. 46, attributes it to Holbein and dates the Louvre drawing 1534.

Carl Winter. "Holbein's Miniatures." Burlington Magazine 83 (November 1943), pp. 266, 269, observes that it "has very good claims to acceptance" as an original Holbein and states that it was cut to an oval shape.

Paul Ganz. The Paintings of Hans Holbein. London, 1950, p. 259, no. 138, pl. 177, as by Holbein; states that it was copied from a larger, now lost, portrait that was based on the Louvre drawing; tentatively dates it 1538.

Graham Reynolds. English Portrait Miniatures. London, 1952, p. 4, lists it with those accepted by Winter [see Ref. 1943] as by Holbein, and calls the group "almost certainly" by Holbein.

Torben Holck Colding. Aspects of Miniature Painting: Its Origins and Development. Copenhagen, 1953, p. 80, as by Holbein, and originally circular.

Daphne Foskett. British Portrait Miniatures. London, 1963, pp. 42–43.

Arlette Calvet in Le XVIe siècle européen, dessins du Louvre. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1965, p. 29, under no. 57, considers the Louvre drawing a study for this miniature rather than for a lost oil painting; dates the drawing possibly about 1534.

Roseline Bacou. Great Drawings of the Louvre Museum. Vol. 3, The German, Flemish, and Dutch Drawings. New York, 1968, unpaginated, under no. 26, as by Holbein.

Hans Werner Grohn in L'opera pittorica completa di Holbein il Giovane. Milan, 1971, p. 106, no. 114a, ill., agrees with Ganz [see Refs. 1937 and 1950] that it is based on a larger, lost painting by Holbein.

Daphne Foskett. A Dictionary of British Miniature Painters. New York, 1972, vol. 1, p. 332, as by Holbein.

Graham Reynolds. "Portrait Miniatures from Holbein to Augustin." Apollo, n.s., 104 (October 1976), p. 275.

Roy Strong. The English Renaissance Miniature. New York, 1983, p. 46, no. 3, fig. 38.

John Rowlands. Holbein: The Paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger. Oxford, 1985, p. 239, no. R.M. 1, pl. 258, catalogues it with rejected miniatures and observes that "although obviously of high quality and closely based on the portrait drawing in the Louvre . . . it is so akin to Hilliard's miniatures as to suggest it was executed in the second half of the sixteenth century".

Graham Reynolds. "Hans Holbein the Younger Re-Examined." Apollo, n.s., 123 (March 1986), p. 216, states that he would be inclined to remove it from Rowlands's list [see Ref. 1985] of rejected works.

Graham Reynolds. English Portrait Miniatures. rev. ed. [1st ed., 1952]. Cambridge, 1988, p. 6.

Graham Reynolds with the assistance of Katharine Baetjer. European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 12, 70–71, no. 6, colorpl. 6 and ill. p. 71.

Susan Foister. Holbein in England. Exh. cat., Tate Britain. London, 2006, p. 57, under no. 54, states that it is based on the Louvre drawing but is not by Holbein himself.

The sitter is represented in a similar manner in two old anonymous portraits at Woburn Abbey and at Palace House, Beaulieu. The Beaulieu version was engraved (head and shoulders only) for The Biographical Mirrour, London, 1795, p. 124.
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