Young Henry VIII: A Lost Portrait?

mostaert1 (1)
Source: Wikipedia Commons

In the Czartoryski Museum in Kraków, Poland, there is a painting known simply as ‘Portrait of a Courtier’ by Jan Mostaert (ca. 1475-1552/53). The handsome young man in the portrait is luxuriously dressed in the fashions of the 1510s or 1520s; the leopard skin in itself gives away that this is no ordinary man.

I certainly wasn’t looking for a portrait of Henry VIII, who happens to be one of my least favourite people in history. But I was going through dozens of Flemish paintings for different reasons of my own, and when I saw this one, a little voice in my head said, ‘That’s young Henry VIII.’

mostaert2
The reason for that little voice became obvious to me when I looked at the portrait of a very young Henry VIII, from circa 1509, when he was a teenager:

Source: Wikipedia Commons
Source: Wikipedia Commons

The 1509 portrait is more poorly executed, but I think the similarities in face shape, proportions, brows, eyes, and especially the nose are striking. The nose, in fact, seems to be exactly the same.

The similarities between Henry VIII and Mostaert’s painting are pronounced further when we look at Hans Holbein’s sketch of a much older – and bigger – Henry. The blue eyes have not only the same shape, but also the same expression in them; and obviously the small pouty mouth is something of a trademark in all existing portraits of Henry VIII.

Source: Wikipedia Commons
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Here are the three faces side by side, to make the comparison easier. Click on the image below to see it in full size!

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And there is a way to verify this: the coat of arms in the upper left-hand corner of the Mostaert painting. The painting is dark and the photograph blurry so that it’s impossible to say for sure what the coat of arms looks like, but the arms is quartered and the shapes certainly make it an exciting possibility that this is the Royal Arms of England, topped with a crown.

arms_collageWould be very interesting if someone at the Museum could take a closer look at this painting and see what the coat of arms really looks like. If it is indeed the Royal Arms of England, at this time period it could only be Henry VIII as a young King – possibly in his mid-to-late twenties.

Mostaert’s painting has a rather interesting recent history. It was stolen from the Polish Czartoryski family by the Nazis, and it ended up in the Virginia Museum of Art, from whence it was restituted to the Czartoryski Museum in 2004. The painting was originally paired with the portrait of a woman, and the pair were traditionally known as King Charles VIII of France and his wife, Anne of Brittany. Obviously art historians have since realised that it couldn’t be Charles VIII, who had died in 1498, and moreover looked nothing like the man in the picture.

But another exciting possibility comes up. What if the pair were actually King Henry VIII of England and another Anne – a young Anne Boleyn?

Source: Wikipedia Commons
Source: Wikipedia Commons

Here’s a comparison of Mostaert’s painting with portraits that have been identified as Anne Boleyn. Click on the image below to see in full size.

Sources: Wikipedia, Wikipedia, and blog by Conor Byrne

The same woman? You decide. Again, there are similarities in face shape, nose, eyes, mouth, and the woman’s colouring.

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14 thoughts on “Young Henry VIII: A Lost Portrait?

  1. I agree with you that it’s probably young Henry VIII (and unlike the 1509 portrait, this one makes you understand why he was considered good-looking!), even down to the same expression in the eyes (cold? melancholy? angry? For a man known for enjoying life’s pleasures, his eyes show very little happiness, he seems to be a guy with some serious issues). And the little pouty mouth reminds me of the little heart-shaped pouty mouth we see in the portraits of Edward IV, Cecily Neville and George Duke of Clarence.

    However, isn’t it a little bit too early for him to be paired up with Anne Boleyn?

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    1. Thank you, timetravellingbunny! 🙂 I agree – whoever the man was, he was quite good-looking. And I agree about Henry’s cold/melancholy/angry eyes, too… glad to hear I’m not alone in thinking the young man’s eyes look exactly the same.

      It would certainly be too young for him to be paired up with Anne Boleyn, but who’s to say the portraits were painted at the same time? Indeed, if the two portraits were originally intended to be displayed together, wouldn’t there be more similarities – in the background, etc? But I’m not an art historian and I’ve never seen the paintings in person, so I don’t know if they look like they ‘match’.

      For whatever reason, the portrait of the lady has been traditionally paired up with the portrait of the man. Would be interesting to know more about the history of these two paintings before they ended up in the possession of the Czartoryski family. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out anything so far.

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  2. Unlike the other image that was recently touted as being Anne Bolyen this one is actually a proper fit. The girl wears fabric and jewels appropriate to a wealthy gentlewoman. The only quibble I’d have is with the style of the hood, which wasn’t exactly the thing in England at this time. It’s angled a wee bit back toward the crown of the head, and English hoods tended to be more centered.

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  3. Hi – this is fascinating. Henry is one of my favorite historical characters, brutal and bloodied though he was. June 28 is also his birthday, so I was doing a little online search and found this! Wonderful. Looking at the photos of the paintings and I agree that the eyes in the potential Henry are very compelling when compared with the known portraits. On the young woman, Anne had been many years in the French court, so she was not a fan of English dress. I believe the young woman is wearing a French hood, which Anne was known to wear. And again, her eyes are very like the known portraits of Anne. Great detective work. Such fun! 🙂

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  4. I still can’t believe that no historians of Tudor era haven’t positively identified this as being Henry. It’s remarkable the likeness as well as that of the “Anne” painting. Honestly it’s hard to think of these two people as anyone OTHER than Anne and Henry.

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  5. Is a lost portrait of Henry VIII. He was so handsome in his youth 🙂
    Henry VIII is my favorite historical idol along with Edward IV, Henry II and Henry V :))

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  7. Henry – yes, very probably. Anne – not convinced. Her face is differently shaped, her neck is short and muscular, not nearly the famous “little neck”. Then again, most of Anne’s existing portraits were painted after her death, so who knows?

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    1. That was exactly my issue with it. . .the neck. Her neck was described as being very slender and swan-like. This woman’s neck is shorter and thicker. I’ve read everything about Anne Boleyn I can find and these replies are the first time I’ve heard that her hair was actually red! Why is she always described as a dark brunette? I would think, if anything, her hair would be a matter of historical record since so much seems to be made of it. Is this a British secret we Yanks are left out of? 😉 jk!

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