National Gallery show gives insights into Tudor royal power

Nicholas Cullinan and Gabriele Finaldi in Room 2

A drawing of king Henry VIII, made by Hans Holbein the Younger around 1537, is now on display next to the painting that partly inspired it, Holbein’s The Ambassadors, at London’s National Gallery.

The sketch, which can normally be found in the nearby National Portrait Gallery, was made as a preparatory drawing for a now lost painting of the Tudor royal family and depicts Henry VIII and his father Henry VII.

Destroyed when the royal palace of Whitehall burnt down in 1698, that painting featured life-size portraits of Henry VIII, his third wife Jane Seymour (who had just died after giving birth to his long-awaited male heir, the future Edward VI), and his parents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

Power at the Tudor court

The composition of the destroyed artwork was inspired by Holbein’s 1533 portrait of two French ambassadors to the English court which has long been one of the National Gallery’s most famous exhibits and is famed for the skull which comes into view when seen from a certain angle.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi, director of the National Gallery, said: “This exceptional juxtaposition provides a unique opportunity to see how Holbein fashioned portraits of power at the Tudor court. Never in England had propagandistic images been elaborated with such compelling force and such sublime artistry. They remain to our modern eyes extraordinarily impressive.”

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