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After the Reformation had brought social and political upheaval to Germany, creating an unfavorable climate for artists, Holbein moved to England in 1526. He first painted for Sir Thomas More's circle of high servants of the crown and then became painter to the King himself, Henry VIII. As court painter Holbein produced portraits, festival sets and other decorations intended to exalt the King and the Tudor dynasty, and also designs for jewelry and metalwork.

In his portraits Holbein endowed his sitters with a powerful physical presence which was increasingly held in check by the psychological reserve and elegance of surface appropriate to a court setting. This portrait of Henry VIII's only legitimate son and much desired male heir exemplifies these qualities. Edward was born on 12 October 1537 to Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, and this portrait appears to be the one given to the King on the New Year of 1539. The form of the portrait and the long Latin verse provided by the poet Richard Morison flatter the royal father and emphasize the succession.

Holbein depicted the baby prince as erect and self-possessed, one hand holding a scepter and the other open in a gesture of blessing. His frontal pose before a parapet is a type reserved for royalty or for images of holy figures.

More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication German Paintings of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries, which is available as a free PDF


across bottom: PARVVLE PATRISSA, PATRIÆ VIRTVTIS ET HÆRES / ESTO, NIHIL MAIVS MAXIMVS ORBIS HABET. / GNATVM VIX POSSVNT COELVM ET NATVRA DEDISSE, / HVIVS QVEM PATRIS, VICTVS HONORET HONOS. / ÆQVATO TANTVM, TANTI TV FACTA PARENTIS, / VOTA HOMINVM, VIX QVO PROGREDIANTVR, HABENT / VINCITO, VICISTI. QVOT REGES PRISCVS ADORAT / ORBIS, NEC TE QVI VINCERE POSSIT, ERIT. Ricard: Morysini. Car: (Little one, emulate thy father and be the heir of his virtue; the world contains nothing greater. Heaven and earth could scarcely produce a son whose glory would surpass that of such a father. Do thou but equal the deeds of thy parent and men can ask no more. Shouldst thou surpass him, thou hast outstript all kings the world has revered in ages past.)


Gift of the artist on 1 January 1539 to Henry VIII, King of England [1509-1547].[1] Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and Surrey [1585-1646], Arundel Castle, Sussex, and Arundel House, London, by 1639, and Amsterdam, from 1643;[2] by inheritance to his wife, Alathea Howard [d. 1654], Antwerp and Amsterdam.[3] Probably William III, King of England and Stadholder-King of the Netherlands [1650-1702], Het Loo, Apeldoorn, possibly by c. 1700.[4] Ernest Augustus I, Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover [1771-1851], Royal Castle, Georgengarten, Hanover, by 1844;[5] by descent to his son, George V, King of Hanover [1819-1878]; by descent to his son, Ernest Augustus II, Duke of Cumberland and Crown Prince of Hanover [1845-1923]; (P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London), by 1925; (M. Knoedler & Co., London and New York), 1925;[6] purchased July 1925 by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 30 March 1932 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

On loan to the Royal-Welfen Museum, Hanover, by 1863 until the 1870s.
Royal Collection housed at Landschaftstrasse 3, Hanover, by 1876.
Fidei-Kommiss Galerie des Gesamthaus Braunschweig-Lüneberg, Provinzial Musuem, Hanover, 1891-1924.
A Loan Exhibition of Twelve Masterpieces of Painting, M. Knoedler & Co., New York, 1928, no. 6.
Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, Tate Gallery, London, 1995-1996, no. 6, repro. and cover.
Hans Holbein, Edward VI. als Kind. Ein Wiedersehen, Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover, 2000, no. 1, repro.
Hans Holbein the Younger 1497/98-1543: Portraitist of the Renaissance, Koninklijk Kabinet van Schilderijen Mauritshuis, The Hague, 2003, no. 33, repro.
Holbein in England, Tate Britain, London, 2006-2007, no. 108, repro.
Les Tudors, Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2015, no. 42, fig. 58.

Technical Summary

The painting comprises two boards with vertical grain. From the x-radiograph it appears that the panel may once have been split along the join line and reglued. The dendrochronological examination conducted by Peter Klein did not produce data that matched the existing master chronologies for Europe and thus yielded neither a date nor confirmation of an earlier examination made by John Fletcher.[1] The panel has been thinned and cradled, and strips of wood approximately 0.95 cm wide have been added to the sides and the top. There is no barbe, and the panel was not painted in an engaged frame. There is nothing to suggest the panel has been cut down. Rather, the fact that the ground is either very thin or nonexistent for a width of approximately 1 cm along the top and bottom edges and that there is a raised lip of ground along the right end of the bottom edge suggest that the panel was held in a clamp or on some sort of easel when the ground was applied. Over the smooth, thick, white ground there is a salmon-pink imprimatura of medium thickness. Examination with infrared reflectography discloses a fine, delicate underdrawing Iying over the imprimatura, probably done with a brush and also visible to the naked eye. There are slight changes in the eyelids, which in the underdrawing were somewhat higher, and in the hand holding the rattle, where the middle finger once was parallel to the index finger and both extended farther to the lower left.

Various techniques were used in this picture. The paint has been very precisely and smoothly applied; glazes and layering have been used in several areas. The paint layers extend to the edges of the panel on all sides. A thick, white layer underlies much of the green drapery, possibly to counter any effect of the pink imprimatura below. The fine, gold lines found in the brocade and decorative details appear to be shell gold brushed over a warm brown or yellow base. In the hat thick, light ocher-toned areas under the gold act as a bole or mordant to provide a warm color base for the gold. The gray-brown portions of the cap are silver leaf, which originally may have been covered by a red glaze.

Except for the hat, many or nearly all of the uppermost layers of the red paint are missing. The remaining reds have a cracked and crizzled appearance. Optical microscopy indicates that the pigment used for the background is smalt, which has discolored to gray and, as indicated by the edges under the frame rabbet, would originally have been closer to a brighter slate blue. Apart from the aforementioned damage, the painting is secure and in reasonably good condition. There is damage and a large abraded loss in the background at the left above the child's arm. There are tiny scattered losses in the left cheek and a thin series of old losses along the join line.

[1] See Peter Klein's examination report, 24 September 1987, in NGA curatorial files. John Fletcher examined the painting on 3-4 October 1979 and put forward a date of 1533/1545 for the earliest likely use of the panel (report, 7-8 November 1979, in NGA curatorial files).


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