Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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9 / Portraits

Henry VIII, King of England
Henry VIII, King of England
Artist / Origin Hans Holbein the Younger (German, 1497–1543) or Workshop
Region: Europe
Date ca. 1540
Material Oil on panel
Medium: Painting
Dimensions H: 225 in. (88.5 cm.), W: 189 in. (74.5 cm.)
Location Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome, Italy
Credit Courtesy of Scala/Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

Susan SidlauskasAssociate Professor of Art History, Rutgers University

Henry VIII, King of England

» Hans Holbein the Younger (German, 1497–1543) or Workshop

expert perspective

Susan Sidlauskas Susan Sidlauskas Associate Professor of Art History, Rutgers University

The notion of portraiture is such a slippery one because in many ways both the subject and the portrayer want to control the event. Who has the power? Well you might have a powerful figure—you might have King Henry VIII commissioning a portrait by Hans Holbein. Well, who has the power there? Henry VIII was famous for lopping off the heads of many of the wives that he didn’t like, so you can imagine that Hans Holbein would be very anxious that he would please Henry VIII. So there you have a kind of asymmetry, perhaps, in power, except we know Henry VIII now, mostly, through that portrait by Hans Holbein. So who has the power? Well, Holbein has stood the test of time in many ways. We grant him the power because his portrait has such power. Henry VIII in his life had enormous political power. So I imagine that that was a very delicate relationship, but I would imagine that Hans Holbein never for one minute thought he had the ultimate power over how Henry VIII would look.” 

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