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.’

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!

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.

23 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?


    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.


  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.


  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! 🙂


  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.


  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?


    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!


  8. I think it is King Henry the VIII. Face structure is the same, unlike that french king charles VIII. King Henry the VIII and his Wife Anne Bolyn stayed in France for a prolonged period of time around 1514 – 1515, since his sister Mary was married to the French King at the time, King Louis XII. This would mean Henry would have been 23 – 24 years old at the time, in his youthful prime (Note in the 1509 painting, he would have been 17-18 yrs old). The coat of arms though in the shadows in Mostaert’s painting, shows darker tones of blue and red, like the coat of arms of Henry VIII. The coat of arms of King Charles VIII is white and blue, which is not the case in the painting.

    King Henry the VIII was regarded as magnificently handsome, and since there’s barely any paintings of him in his prime, and his teenager paintings do not have the skills of Fench painters to reflect this, the Mostaert painting indeed reflects the reported qualities of of young Henry the VIII as being one of the most handsome monarch’s to grace the English throne.


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  10. I saw a documentary about Henry a few years ago – he was quite athletic before he was seriously injured in a jousting accident, He had a serious head injury, and his leg was badly broken. His personality changed dramatically, and he became paranoid. Anne had a miscarriage when she heard about the accident, and that angered him.


  11. What a shame that there is no paintings of Henry in England when he was Young except for these two. There are a few artists around in his day John Browne, Antony Toto but none of their paintings are know to survive.


  12. Interesting theory, but I can’t say that it will hold up.

    If the picture displayed has not been flipped, then the faintly visable coat of arms is incorrect for Henry VIII, King of England. Even though portraits could have mistakes on occassion, and certainly actual likeness could vary, especially when some were merely copies or done from vague recollections or sketches sent abroad, a coat of arms, especially for royalty, would never be done incorrectly as it the most important signifier.

    The fleur de lis are in the wrong quarters for the English coat of arms.

    I also believe, that although you can make a case for physical likeness if you want, that the clothing and facial structure doesn’t have anything particularly to suggest that link to Henry VIII. Again, you have to be careful positing a basis on facial likeness due to regards in how the portrait was painted (from what source material), who painted it (were they skilled at recreating a true likeness), and why it was painted (were there political reasons a person might be painted a certain way – uglier or better looking or more fashionably acceptable)

    This is obvously a wealthy person.

    Though Henry VIII is described as being handsome in his youth before the accident that led to his obesity etc, that statement should also be taken with an understanding of what was considered attractive at the time, and the political ramifications attached to describing the physical appearance of royalty. None of the Tudors were known for taking any kind of criticism well.

    If anything, I think you’d have a better argument for similarity in appearance with Prince Arthur, Henry’s older brother, but again, I don’t think so based on the coat of arms.


  13. The painting should be professionally cleaned then the coat of arms will be able to be identified. It does look like a young Henry but the visible parts of the coat of arms do not appear to match. And I do agree that this could be a picture of Henry’s sister who did spend time in France. This also looks like the coat of Arms could be the Royal Coat of Arms for England in Henry the 1st’s time.


  14. Correction of my 1st post – I meant Henry the 6th’s reign & not Henry the 8th’s reign. If he were a teen then check & see if he changed his coat of arms when he became king.


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