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