Until 9 September 2012 Room 2 Free Five pairs of nearly identical Tudor portraits have been brought together in a new display at the National Portrait Gallery. The display will explore how and why duplicates and copies of portraits were made in the sixteenth century.
Portraits from the Gallery’s Collection of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Archbishop William Warham, the merchant Thomas Gresham and Lord Treasurer Thomas Sackville are paired with portraitson loan from other collections. [Anne Boleyn circa 1500-1536 By Unknown artist Oil on panel, late sixteenth century NPG 668]
This will be the first time that the Gallery’s well-known portrait of Anne Boleyn will be on display since undergoing recent structural conservation.
Research undertaken as part of the Making Art in Tudor Britain project has used scientific techniques to analyse the portraits in the Double Take display to increase our understanding of the working practices of Tudor artists.
The project has used dendochronology, infrared reflectography, x-radiography and photomicroscopy to explore the processes employed in making these portraits, revealing which are contemporary versions and which are later copies. In the sixteenth century there was increased demand for painted portraits of monarchs and prominent courtiers.
These portraits adorned private homes and civic institutions and could be used to situate monarchs within an historical context or to demonstrate allegiance to the Crown or political allies.
Artists had little opportunity to paint sitters from life and as a result they made portrait patterns of prominent figures which were circulated between artists’ workshops.
The patterns were either copied from existing paintings or based on existing drawings from the life. Occasionally high demand for portraits of certain figures meant that numerous versions of a portrait were produced in a workshop at any one time, either for patrons or possibly for sale. The display opens with a drawing of William Warham by Hans Holbein the Younger from the Royal Collection, which was a study for a painting gifted to the Dutch humanist Erasmus.
Displayed alongside are two copies of Holbein’s final painted portrait of Warham, one from the Gallery’s Collection (NPG 2094) and one from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s collection at Lambeth Palace. Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) has shown that both were produced long after Holbein’s death, which demonstrates that there was a market for portraits of early Tudor sitters, or for works after Holbein, in the Elizabethan period. [Anne Boleyn circa 1500-1536By Unknown artist Oil on panel, 1590-1610 NPG 4980(15). Both images © National Portrait Gallery]
Both portraits, though employing different painting techniques, would once have appeared to be much more similar but the green pigment in the damask cloth in the Lambeth painting has discoloured to brown. Showing all three works together provides insight into the working practices of Tudor artists and demonstrates how a sitter’s likeness, recorded in a drawing from the life, could be replicated for many years.
The display also includes two portraits of King Henry VIII, one from the Gallery’s Collection (NPG 1376) and another lent by the Society of Antiquaries of London, both painted circa 1535-1540. It is possible that both portraits were produced in the same English workshop and similarities in the technique suggest that parts of the paintings may have been by the same person.
The two portraits on display of Anne Boleyn are from the Gallery’s Collection (NPG668 and NPG 4980(5)); they vary in quality but were both based on a similar face pattern. They were produced over 50 years after Anne Boleyn’s death and illustrate how the same face patterns could be used to reproduce portraits for many years.
Other works on display include two portraits of Thomas Gresham, one lent by The Mercer’s Company and one from the Gallery’s collection (NPG 352), which have been shown, through technical analysis, to have been produced in the same workshop at the same time. Also included are two portraits of the prominent courtier Thomas Sackville: NPG 4024 and a loaned portrait from the Sackville Collection and the National Trust at Knole.