Hans Holbein the Younger (Augusta 1497 – London 1543)
Portrait of Henry VIII

1540

Oil on wood

88.5 x 74.5 cm

Palazzo Barberini

Inv: 878

The inscription on the blue ground informs us that the English sovereign Henry VIII was forty-nine years of age when Holbein painted this portrait, on the occasion of the King’s fourth marriage. The subject’s frontal pose, his sumptuous clothes and jewelry, and his gaze staring out at the viewer all stamp the portrait with a vivid image of Henry’s grandeur and power, while alluding to the political importance of his (short-lived) marriage to Princess Anne of Cleves.

Holbein, personal painter to the English sovereign since 1536, here displays all his artistry. The varied textures of the fabrics are impeccably rendered: the silk brocade and fur, the patterning on his doublet, the puffed shirt sleeves, the sword and the jewels, are all delineated in fine detail. Henry VIII’s physiognomy is true to life, but at the same time presents a timeless image of the king.