Never Before Seen Portrait: Henry VIII

Awhile back I compiled all the portraits of King Henry VIII that I could find, but this portrait was not among my finding. Recently I’ve become a member of a website that offers some unique portraits, sometimes I’ve even questioned whether or not it’s possible that they are labeled incorrectly. So…keeping that in mind, let us take a look at this portrait and how it is labeled. I will also compare it to other portraits of Henry to see if we can find similarities.

Henry VIII, King of England (1509-47) Greenwich 28.6.1491 – Westminster 28.1.1547. Portrait in his early years. Painting by Hans Holbein t. Y. (1497-1543). Naples, Palazzo Reale. Source: akg-images

Here is a comparison of portraits – the first one is Henry at the very beginning of his reign when he was only eighteen years old, then we have the newly discovered one which is labeled as “early reign” and one from later in life. I definitely see some similarities but I’m not 100% certain that this portrait is labeled correctly. The hat he is wearing in the new portrait definitely resembles something Henry would wear but the cross he wears around his neck does not seem consistent with other portraits of the King.

Is this new portrait that of Henry VIII or incorrectly labeled as the King of England – only time will tell. What are your thoughts?

Note:After digging a bit deeper on this portrait I think I can now say that the portrait was painted around 1525 and this black and white image may be a picture of the portrait taken around 1920-1930 by Fratelli Alinari. Which would explain why it’s black and white. I have had one person say that the original was destroyed in WWII, which is completely plausible.


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84 Comments Leave a comment

  1. If you look really closely to the first painting you can barely make out a dimple on his chin. this is very interesting and a very well painted portrait of him. this could really leave a lot of inside as to what he truly looked like.

  2. Is it a dimple or is it facial hair? I’m going with it’s facial hair. If it was a dimple it’s beyond a kirk Douglas one. The cross I believe would be there as Henry was originally destined for the church. From all accounts of the younger Henry I believe this could well be him.

  3. It looks like him in the nose and eyes. There is a slight dimple in the first painting that would be more prominent as he gained more weight in the face. Who else could it be? I believe that it is Henry VIII.

  4. I think it could very well be Henry. As the second son, he was destined for the church prior to the death of Artur, his older brother. As such, the cross would be appropriate, and sine at this time he was a most Christian king and was named Defender of the Faith by the Pope, I feel that naming this portrait as Henry Octo is a good call.

  5. The nose in pictures 2 & 3 are identical, noses don’t change much with age, and he has the same stubby fingers, a shame he has no rings to go by?

  6. The mouth looks wrong ( too wide) to me. Of course the one on the left painted when he was young doesn’t look like him either

  7. My guess would be that is is someone wealthy but not necessarily of the nobility. A domestic setting and fine but unostentatious dress.

    • Exactly so. The indications of class that you mention entirely outweigh any vague facial similiarities (though I don’t actually see much similiarity to be honest).

  8. The more I study the portrait the more I’m convinced it is Henry. It’s always difficult to identify portraits of pre photography people as artistic licence, desire to present and enhance certain features as desired by the sitter all have an impact. Let’s face it – no one really knows what any of the Tudors looked like and never will.

  9. It’s also very difficult (but not impossible) that a parent with a cleft chin would not pass this onto a child. Did Henry VII have a cleft chin?

  10. Has any other portrait shown Henry with a cleft chin? Also, this must have been taken after Henry met Francis I of France as he is recorded as only sporting a beard after seeing Francis having one. The clothes looks more like a middling class than royalty but it could have been painted at a hunting lodge or such when less regal attire would be worn.

  11. Maybe the first picture isn’t Henry at all. How does his head go from an oblong shape to a round short head? The new picture and the last picture look more alike and the first picture doesn’t look like either of them. Just my thoughts.

  12. The first painting in done in the style so indicative of the time period – men tended to have serene, feminine qualities. Even so the eye shape and nose are clearly the same. Remember, Henry was robust, healthy and a fine, manly-man. The left picture does not portray that. The chin cleft would have been seen as a flaw, thus being omitted by many painters. The beard later would hid any cleft. Holbein was a royal family painter, meaning that’s who served as his funds source. Henry was considered the handsomest man in the kingdom, not just because of his royalty, but because he just was. I think the middle portrait is Henry. He was very devout, and a painting for love.. say as a gift to his wife, would include the cross on a chain. Even in his monster years, he heard mass 7 times a day!

  13. I dont think the new one is of Henry VIII. He never wore a cross around his neck and the face does not look the same as portrait #1 and #3. Henry was religious but unlike his grandmother, Margaret Beaufort, he never wore a cross even after becoming the defender of the faith.

  14. The Rosebud Lips of Henry VIII are missing….I would guess it to be Henry’s illegitimate son Sir John Perrort by Mary Berkely, Perrot, Pughe born 1528. His size indicates he’s well fed and Henry certainly was that which promotes the large dimple in the chin. D.Charles Rice 1948 of the Nebraska Rices proved descendants of Sir Robert Dudley 1532

  15. Okay guys, come on now, the first portrait is not a great work of art for a portrait of a king, even if it’s his early stages. The face is to long and as vain as Henry was about his portraits, he may not have wanted the dimple in the portrait to much, maybe he was a little embarrassed of it at that time. The second picture of the portrait that was made, looks more like the 3rd than the first and third. I think it will be revealed this is in fact a picture of the original portrait of the King. And lord knows I hope so, since the 1st and 3rd really don’t give the King that handsome of an appeal. Maybe I’m just wishful that it is legit because the second one, he is pretty hot and it will put a much better image in my head of him. Lol!

  16. The first painting is not Henry. The eyes and cleft chin and shape of the face is all wrong.

    If you have a cleft chin you are born with it.

    It looks like Edward, Henry’s son.

    • I agree. The first portrait is not Henry VIII, but rather his older brother who died very early in his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

  17. As nice a painting as it is, I just simply do not believe that it is Henry VIII. There are too many differences, for one – the cleft in the chin, the length of the face, the height of the eyebrows – generally speaking these things usually tend to remain! I’ve only seen portraits with the feather hanging down at the side like that in the 1540s onwards, and Henry certainly looked nothing like that then, not to mention the shabby background in the painting and rather unimpressive clothing. I do have the feeling that it is some Italian gentleman or something of that sort. I’m also unsure as to whether it’s a Holbein or not because it’s so different from his normal style.

    • Not only is the room not royal but the clothes are not royal. In our own relatively classless age we are less good at recognizing the outward signs of social class. The first portrait of Henry shows him dripping in extravagant jewelled collars, the second shows an ermine collar. All portraits of Henry show his wealth in his clothing. (And let’s not forget that there were sumptuary laws which forbade people of lower classes wearing certain clothes precisely to make people’s class apparent.) The person in the portrait in question wears no fur, modest hat decorations, and a simple cross. No fur, no richly embroidered fabric.

      And the relatively plain room he is standing in says the same thing. This is not a palace, and this is not a king.

  18. This is quite a fantastic finding you have here! I am willing to help you reach further down in the history and context of this portrait. But I’m afraid I cannot. Being a historian does take up a decent 10 hours of my day. I have recently been exploring the grounds of the castle where Henry VIII honeymooned and am quite suprised that it is up for sale. I recommened you go have a root around there for I have seen amazing things there.

    Good Day

    Dr Buers

  19. That is not a picture of Henry VIII. I’m sorry to say, but it’s not. Let’s forget, for now, that the clothing this sitter is wearing is more indicative of Elizabethan period dress, the guy looks nothing like the king. You can squint your eyes and try to pretend you see a resemblance, but the fact of the matter is that someone is trying to take the piss.

  20. I’m no expert but I agree with those who point out that the mouth and brows are different. This new portrait is of a man with a larger mouth. I have always noticed how Henry is portrayed in other paintings with a rather small mouth. The new portrait is of a man with a lower brow , so there’s
    a distinct difference in bone structure, not just in the fact the.eyebrows themselves are flatter on this new portrait. I detect a slight difference in the structure of the cheekbones also. The young Henry’s cheekbones begin to jut out level with the end of his nose but this new portrait is of a man whose cheekbones jut out at a point noticeably higher than this.

  21. Actually I think the portrait looks to modern. The face doesn’t look period for Holbein. I don’t know. I like it, but I have reservations

  22. I don’t think it’s him. The eyebrows in the 2nd photo aren’t nearly as arched, and the cheekbones aren’t as high. As far as “the simple”, I don’t think that’s a dimple, but rather facial hair. The dark color is making it look like an indention. Also the fact that the subject is wearing plain black with just a cross around his neck. In other paintings he is in furs and jewels etc.

  23. He looks like a serial killer! Oh wait… Henry VIII was a serial killer! Why is it less likely to be him, when it looks less attractive than the one we are familiar with? He had the most narcissistic ego of any monarch known. I’m sure he would have beheaded the artist that didn’t paint a flattering portrait in his image…

  24. I’m not familiar with Holebein’s painting style. It would be interesting to compare his other portraits with this. (For me, Anthony van Dyck painted men in such similar fashion many looked alike.) When people gain weight quickly, it can dramatically alter their looks. Possible this was a time in his life when he went through significant grown and layering of fat. (This is the nutritionist in me who observes this in practice.)

  25. My ancestry is Tudor from Owen Tudor onward, Geni says I am his 14th great grandson. I have had the demple since childhood and still do. You can check out my dopple ganger looks on line at FB. D. Charles Rice born 1948 of the Nebraska Ethelralda MAarsh great grandson X 10. My guess is that the person identified is Sir John Perrot, the Kings 1/2 son by Mary Berkley Pugh and Foster father of my 9th great grandfather John Perratt II 1565, son of Sir Robert Dudley a532. D. Charles Rice 1948 Nebraska Rice family

  26. While I wouldn’t argue the possibility of the subject being Henry, the artist is defimitely not Holbein. The style is totally off, particularly the eyes. And even the texture looks ‘wrong’ somehow. I’d say this portrait’s painter was likely unknown and someone just assumed Holbein due to him doing the others.

  27. I was surprised to see this new portrait. There’s some similarities between it and his older one, mainly his face is broader in each. The early one is narrower but probably because he was thinner then. But it’s interesting to see this regardless if it’s Henry or not. Thanks!

  28. There is a chin dimple in the first portrait, so that’s consistent. I think you could convince yourself either way whether it’s Henry or not, but the clothing should not be the deciding factor – it’s not as if we saw everything he wore, just what he wore for specific portraits. To me, it could be the same man in all three, but it doesn’t look like the same artist – maybe the ‘new’ one isn’t by Holbein, but is still Henry VIII.

    • Yes I thought that too. People are saying it doesn’t look like Henry but perhaps that’s because there aren’t any others of him at that age, 28. Most of the famous portraits are in his later years. I think it’s him.

  29. I would say it probably is having seen all the others and ones of blood relatives. That being said, it was a common thing for artists to paint all of their works with similar features no matter who they were painting. All artists did/do it, so so there will always be a small doubt.
    Nice portrait though!

  30. I just don’t see it. It’s a beautiful painting, there’s no doubt, but it doesn’t look like Henry to me. An artist of that skill shouldn’t have had trouble making the king instantly “recognizable,” and this man doesn’t look like Henry VIII.

    Secondly, the attire strikes me as far too simple. Henry remained, throughout his life, a very flashy dresser with elaborate slashings in his jeweled tunics. The cross, too, is far too simple for a man who felt that displays of wealth were power, and in his own way, tightly controlled his image the way Elizabeth I did.

    There’s a cat in front of the fire. To my knowledge, Henry was never depicted with a cat – far too “feminine” an iconography for him. It would have been a hunting dog or something along those lines

    Lastly, the interior of the building around the sitter doesn’t look like a royal palace, but rather a wealthy merchant’s home.

  31. I would be very critical of this or attributing the work to Holbein. First, it’s B/W, and also Henry didn’t begin to put on weight til latter part of his life. Before it, physique description matches known Holbein and matches verified descriptions of Henry at younger age. Most likely, this is a forgery. I would put little credence into it – last, the colors & shading that would be in use by the author are visibly absent..that remained in Holbein’s works throughout his life as a painter.

  32. The eyes don’t seem as deep and the brows are totally dif fervent. If it’s a holbien and is in fact Henry then it’s not half as likeness as the rest of his work. Personally looks more like a relative than him himself

    • Stephanie, I was just going to make that remark when I saw your post. We have a dimple problem, lol. In regard to the cross, perhaps he was attending a function which dictated the type of dress. A wedding? A funeral?

    • Holbein was very distinct at painting his subject’s eyes & facial features (nose, ears, etc) – he said they were distinct and focused great attention on them as they do not change much w/a person’s age (his words, not mine). Notice both the left (young – known work of Holbein) and right (old – known work of Holbein) – the eyes, brows, shape and spacing are the same…but do not match Holbein’s style for depiction in middle painting. It’s best to leave this to the experts, but I would expect this to be an “introduced” forgery – as it doesn’t match the Holbein style..and whoever produced it, hasn’t or didn’t study Henry or his known physique (young life vs. old) –at all.

    • The eyebrows are the same shape in #1 and #3, but not the new-found #2. Same with the mouth. I don’t think it is Henry.

    • I tend to believe 2 and 3 are the same person. Given the many photos of portraits depicting Henry VIII, although I’m not qualified to give a definitive answer, I’m of the opinion that number 1 is not Henry.

      • I totally agree. The face is a completely different shape in the 1st painting. Regarding the cross : what the sitting would be wearing would depend on the purpose of the portrait: who is it for? Who are the intened viewers? What message is the sitter trying to convey? Portraits were full of symbolism and included ‘props’ designed to project a certain image.

      • I agree. I’ve often thought this might be his brother Arthur. However, it could still be Henry but in his mid teens. Faces can change and broaden quite a bit between then and mid to late 20’s.

    • I beg to differ Stephanie. If you look closely or even enlarge the first image, there is just a hint of a dimple.

      • The first painting does show a very faint dimple. His face was very thin then so it wouldn’t have been very pronounced. I think the second new portrait does show a dimple too, I don’t think it is just part of his beard.

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