Looking after Henry

An early portrait of Henry V111 which hangs in the Library

Lord Fairhaven's art collection includes one of the earliest known portraits of Henry VIII. Vital conservation work is about to start to help safeguard this nationally important painting.

Several images of Henry were painted during his reign, probably the best known being the later images by Holbein. This early depiction was not painted to commemorate the strength and triumphs of the Tudor dynasty, but to record a truthful likeness of the young King. He is shown wearing a beard which he grew in readiness for his meeting with Francois 1, King of France, at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520.

There are no known similar portraits of Henry, although a number of related paintings have been identified. These include a painting of Henry V11 owned by the Society of Antiquarians, an earlier portrait of Henry V111 sold at Sotherby's in 1996, and a second similar portrait in a private collection.

The boards of all four portraits have been identified through dendrochronological analysis (tree ring dating) as coming from the same tree. It's likely therefore that they were made by the same workshop.

The felling date for the tree is estimated to be between 1500 and 1516. Panels in this period were often constructed from green or only partially seasoned wood, so use of the panel can be dated at approx 1500 - 1520 AD. 

X-ray scans on the painting reveal that it has undergone some significant adjustments. There appears to be an earlier depiction of the king under the current portrait, where his shoulders are sloping, the hair is longer and there is no beard.

As with many paintings on panel of this age, the portrait has a number of conservation needs. Firstly there is old woodworm damage to the board which has weakened its structure and caused some paint losses.

Panel paintings also suffer to a great extent from fluctuations in relative humidity which leads to warping. At some point two broad fixed battens have been added to the back of the panel, which may have contributed to four splits in the panel.

Experts have examined the portrait and drawn up a detailed conservation plan. Proposed work includes removal of the battens, gluing four splits, surface cleaning and re-varnishing. The work is estimated to cost in the region of £2000.

Conservation work like this is made possible thanks to our supporters and visitors. Money raised from membership & admission fees, purchases in the shop & restaurant, all help to support our vital conservation work.

Thank-you for helping to safeguard this nationally important artwork.