Sunday, October 27, 2013

King Henry VIII

Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28th January 1547) was King of England from April 21st, 1509 until his death on January 28th, 1547. He was Lord, and later assumed the Kingship, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France. Henry was the second monarch of the Tudor dynasty, succeeding his father, Henry VII.

Mini-Majesty: Dynasty and Succession
in the Portraiture of Henry VIII and Edward VI

Naomi Yavneh Klos, Ph.D.
Loyola University New Orleans

The best-known fact regarding Henry VIII (other than his break with the Catholic Church and increasing obesity) was that he had six wives.  An almost equally familiar corollary, intimately tied with the saga of the first three wives, especially, was Henry’s desperation for a legitimate son who would bolster and extend the Tudor lineage started by Henry VII.  Contrary to popular view, this desire for a male offspring was not only a reflection of the king’s ego but also grounded in contemporary political reality: the birth of a son would reduce the risk of civil war (which might be caused by the selection of a non-filial or illegitimate male relative as heir apparent) or of the passing of control of England itself to a continental power, as might occur were a queen regnant to marry a prince consort.

This essay will focus on the dynastic portraiture of Henry VIII and his family, with a particular emphasis on the work of Hans Holbein, especially Holbein’s portrait of the future Edward VI as a toddler, painted as a New Year’s gift to Henry in 1539.  Before examining the suggestive presentation of Henry’s heir, however, I would like first to consider the image of a more contemporary future monarch, the current Prince George, whose christening in October, 2013, provided a vibrant photoopportunity to memorialize not only the child’s birth and the perpetuation of the monarchy, but the rehabilitation of the House of Windsor. 

Any christening is, by the very nature of the celebration itself, focused on the new generation, and often on the succession of the generations.  Aunts, uncles, grandparents and even great-grandparents gather to mark the baby’s arrival, his formal welcoming into a religious structure that may or may not be a quotidian part of their lives, and (assuming the child is not adopted) to stake personal claim to the baby’s features (“My eyes!” “Grandma’s nose!”).  This popularly-reproduced family portrait presents an image of a happy, multi-generational family, festively but formally attired.  At the center, flanked by the beaming father and the impeccably dressed great-grandmother (whose handbag – black to match her gloves and shoes – is planted on the floor next to the couch), sits the beautiful mother, her long dark hair flowing, a fascinator perched upon her head, and her own gently ruffled, cream-colored outfit blending perfectly with that of her son, an ornate lace christening dress.

Although this photo might be representative of many other modern families (great-grandma, always with her purse; grandpa’s second wife beamingly integral to the grouping; the childless aunt and uncle grinning with joy that there is a baby and it is not theirs), as the headline makes clear, this portrait, depicting four generations for the first time, “shows the future of the monarchy: 

For any other family, they would be treasured mementoes mounted in an album and taken off the shelf during special occasions.  For the House of Windsor, they are images which project Britain’s past, present and future and their message is clear: the monarchy is here to stay.[1]

With their smiling faces and tight grouping, the figures in the portrait present joy and unity.  Yet the photograph also serves as a reminder that to examine the meaning of images, whether contemporary or early modern, is not only to engage in a study of iconography and convention, but the interaction of such praxes in a particular historical moment.  The photograph draws much of its meaning from the concatenation of both our understanding of the conventions of family portraiture and our familiarity with the individuals in this specific representation; the reader of the Telegraph is likely aware not only of George’s place in the line of succession, but also his descendency from Diana, the “people’s princess,” whose failed marriage to the baby’s grandfather (the Prince of Wales) and subsequent death in a car crash challenged the monarchic tradition.  This formal portrait offers an official correction: tradition is continued, but with a contemporary spin that includes a new wife for the divorced Prince of Wales and the non-royal family of the new prince’s mother, who, like the Madonna flanked with saints in a 16th-century Sacra conversazione [Madonna enthroned] holds on her lap the precious baby, the focus of all attention but, as yet, unaware of his own future role and immense power. 

          However distant a digital photo may seem from sixteenth-century portraiture in oil and precious pigments, this picture of Prince George’s christening offers a useful perspective from which to consider dynastic imagery in general and Holbein’s painting in particular.  In that portrait, Prince Edward is adorable, his rosy cheeks and childish hands emphasized by their contrast with his elaborate courtly attire.  Yet like the official images of little George, this New Year’s gift for the toddler’s father, Henry VIII, is not primarily designed to capture the boy’s childish attractions for eternal remembrance.  Although he displays many of the physical features of a young child, the pose, color-scheme and costume are those habitually used by the artist and his circle for portraits of the father; these iconographic features, along with his physical resemblance to his father (red hair, fair complexion, piercing eyes) function as a visual reminder of the prince’s role as Henry’s legitimate heir.  In other words, this is a painting of the son, but about the father.

          Yet if the two dynastic images (21st and 16th century) serve a similar function, reading the Holbein portrait is nevertheless a more complicated process.  If the impact of the christening portrait derives, in part, from its simultaneous resemblance of and distinction from similar photographs, how do we understand such discrepancies – and, indeed, the meaning of images – for a culture temporally distant from our own?  For example, in a work such as The Virgin and Child Before a Firescreen (follower of Roger Campin, c. 1440), the iconographic symbolism is enhanced by the placement of the Madonna and Child in a domestic interior, where homely fixtures (the firescreen) double as sacred emblems (the Virgin’s halo) in order to augment the viewer’s sense of identification with this human mother, even as they mark her distinction from other women.

          This painting, and the firescreen itself (a quotidian object now rendered obsolete and recherch√©), highlight the question of how images communicate across time, of how the modern viewer can recuperate implications that would have been obvious to a work’s original intended audience.  A related set of issues is raised by a genre such as the Madonna lactans, in which the Virgin’s bared breast had radically different associations for the contemporary viewer than it does for us.  In the 14th-century, a reading of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Madonnadel latte (c. 1340) would have been informed by the ubiquity of breastfeeding (including wetnursing) in a society without refrigeration or formula, and by high maternal and infant mortality rates exascerbated first by famine and then the Black Death.[2]  And the attempt to recover such meanings with as little anachronism as possible is compounded by the messages of 21st-century culture, such as highway billboards for a family chain restaurant, encouraging customers to “Huddle Up” with the revealingly-clad Hooter Girls.  Nor can we view the meaning of “the early modern Madonna lactans” as monolithic: even given the continuing prevalence of a breastfeeding culture in 16th-century Italy and the increased effort to underscore the sacred significance of the Virgin Mary to the Catholic Church in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, that particular representation becomes infrequent.  What might have been the changing understanding of such an image?

Leo Steinberg has argued that, even armed with a background in iconography, our post-modern preconceptions and readings of images can cause us to miss important, telling features of early modern art.  In The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, Steinberg zestfully discusses, for example, how modern critics have either misunderstood or ignored the common presence of Baby Jesus’ erect penis.  According to Steinberg, this literal ignorance has led to modern obliviousness to an important theological message of such images: the centrality of the theology of the Incarnation – i.e., the mystery of God’s transformation into human flesh.  The shift in emphasis from Christ’s divinity to his humanity that is visible in the transition from the representation of the Child as puer senex  (Giotto, Ognissanti madonna, detail) to the fleshy bambini of Quattrocento Florence (for example, Raphael’s Sistine Madonna, detail) is underscored in Steinberg’s reading by the specific emphasis on the genitals as synecdoche for humanity, or in Steinberg’s controversial term, “sexuality,” which he argues as that humanity’s central attribute.[3]  Leaving aside Steinberg’s accent on sexuality, the visual emphasis on the embodied Bambino Gesu’ extends beyond the images in which a penis (erect or otherwise) is specifically represented to the lifelike and engaging Madonnas and Childs of a High Renaissance artist such as Raphael, in whose works the affective intimacy of mother and baby draws attention simultaneously to the fact that child is both like and decidedly different from all other children.[4]  In the Madonna of the Chair, for example, the seated Madonna tightly embraces the chubby toddler who, seated on her lap, faces her, her encircling arms and their inclined bodies echoing the tondo format of the painting.  Although Jesus is looking directly at the viewer, he draws back toward his mother, his hand tucked beneath her shawl, as she draws him close to protect him.  This naturalistic representation and developmentally appropriate behavior (“stranger anxiety”) underscores the shared humanity of mother and child, even as it points to the shared suffering his choice of humanation will entail.

The same attention to “like” and “unlike” that is evident in the christening photo and, even more so, central to representations of both Jesus and his mother in Renaissance art is, I will argue, at the heart of Hans Holbein’s portrait, completed when the prince was just fourteen months old, and presented to the child’s father a little over a year after the mother’s death from post-childbirth complications.  Like the baby in Raphael’s Madonna of the Chair this child’s clear skin and round, pink cheeks render him an exemplar of robust health at a time when infant mortality was a heart-rending commonplace.

          But infant mortality and lack of an heir, of course, have a special significance for the Tudor family and for 16th-century England.  As indicated above, even 21st-century viewers are aware that Henry rid himself of his first two wives (not to mention two others!), who failed to provide him with a son.  16th-century viewers would have been painfully familiar with the details of the divorce, the rupture with the Catholic Church, the coronation and subsequent repudiation and beheading of Anne Boleyn, and the concomitant bastardization of first Mary and then Elizabeth.  The birth of Edward to Henry’s “first true wife,” Jane Seymour – despite her death twelve days later – marked the clearly legitimate continuation of the Tudor dynasty founded by the king’s father, Henry VII.  In this portrait, then, Edward may not be the son of God, but he is the son of the head of God’s church the king, as evidenced by his garb and the clear allusions to Holbein’s own depictions of the boy’s father. 

A portrait, of course, is not a snapshot, an exact and neutral reproduced likeness of a particular individual at a particular time.  Rather, it represents a series of choices, based on the artist’s abilities and predilections, prevailing contemporary styles in artwork (and the desire to conform with or to move away from them), the patron’s wishes and wallet, ideological concerns, and the intended purpose of the work.[5]  As we shall see, for example, whether or not we choose to view such paintings as part of a political program of propaganda, as some have argued,[6] portraits of Henry VIII would certainly have been designed to show his power, prestige and wealth; the way Henry’s broad shoulders extend beyond the frame of Holbein’s Thyssen Portrait (1534-39) is as much about Henry’s dominance and imperium as it is about his famous girth. Specific jewels or other accoutrements serve as markers of prestige and wealth, and may also indicate the sitter’s specific identity; indeed, sometimes a portrait might be created from clothing after a subject’s death.[7]

Although the prince’s attire is frequently included in websites delineating the dress of 16th-century children, his clothing should be considered as part of the construct of the portrait – along with his health, his pose, and physical attributes – rather than as a “realistic” depiction of the toddler Edward Tudor.  Edward VI may or may not have been a sickly baby (he was clearly in ill health as an adolescent and died at age 15) and perhaps did indeed walk before the age of one, but those matters are not directly relevant to our understanding of this image, which is a painting of Edward as he never physically existed.

Come hear Dr. Klos speak on this topic at Family Politics in Early Modern England, A Symposium, Anatomy Museum, King’s College London, Strand, WC2R 2LS, Friday 15th November 2013, 11.00-18.00 and Saturday 16th November 2013, 09.00-15.00.

In order to grasp the complex messages conveyed in this painting of the son which, I argue, is designed to extoll the father’s glory, it is helpful to look first at Holbein’s depiction of that father, most notably but not exclusively in the Whitehall Mural created in 1537, either shortly before or after Edward’s birth and Jane Seymour’s death, and originally located on a wall of the King’s Privy Chamber in Whitehall Palace. The painting itself was unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1698, and therefore only visible to us now through two copies made by Remigius van Leemput (one commissioned in 1667 by King Charles II, and one, probably for the Seymour family, in 1669) as well as in a portion of Holbein’s life-size cartoon, now in the National Portrait Gallery.[8] Although aspects of the original are thus irrevocably lost (its size, disposition in the Privy Chamber, other features of the room, etc.), we can nevertheless consider what we do know about the organization and iconography of this image designed, in Susan Foister’s words, to “celebrate the Tudor dynasty for posterity,”[9] and that included what has become an iconic representation of King Henry himself, along with depictions of his wife, Jane Seymour (modeled on the portrait now in Vienna), and of his parents Henry VII and Elizabeth of York.

Henry VIII, after acquiring Whitehall Palace “upon Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from grace” had “immediately set to work to make it one of the grandest of his palaces,” but, unfortunately neither the building nor most of the building accounts are extant.[10]  In attempting to reconstruct who would have had access to the Privy Chamber at the time of the mural’s creation, Foister explains that the Privy Chamber “was at the heart of a sequence of royal lodgings found in a number of Tudor palaces, leading from the public rooms, the Guard Chamber and the Presence Chamber, to the Privy chamber and a sequence of private rooms…. The Privy Chamber thus occupied a pivotal role between the public and private arenas: it was a room to which Henry could retreat in private, but in which he might also dine and receive select visitors” (178).  Because at Whitehall new construction allowed the king “more privacy in rooms beyond the Privy Chamber,” it is likely, Foister posits, that “the Privy chamber…was more often used as a public room, the most privileged space in which to meet the king” (178-79).

Art historians generally concur that the ornate, classicized setting of the mural would have fit the palace’s decor.   Equally significant, in Tatiana String’s reading, is the message that such a setting, along with some of the mannerist features of the painting (such as the “elongations of Henry’s body”), would have conveyed to Henry’s visitors: that the king was “up to date with current trends, suggesting comparisons with a rival such as Francis I, and plugged into the prestige and authority of antiquity….Henry [is able] to cast himself among the continental elite and to afford to do so.”[11]  String’s comments are helpful in understanding how the elements of contemporary continental painting deployed in this work, placed in the relatively intimate and politically central location of the Privy Chamber, underscore not just the artist’s technique but both his own and the patron’s place in an elite cultural milieu.  These underpinnings provide a frame from which to consider the mural’s dynastic theme visually articulated in the four full-body portraits of Kings Henry VII and VIII, presented opposite their wives, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour, on either side of what appears to be a large stone altar.  Although Henry VII and Elizabeth, Henry VIII’s parents, stand on a ledge behind the younger couple, the use of perspective is exaggerated, rendering Henry the dominant figure, looming large in the foreground, and dwarfing the figure of his tiny, pale-skinned wife, standing demurely with hands folded.  Although the altar’s Latin inscription, discussed below, poses the ostensibly unresolved question of whether father or son is pre-eminent, Henry VIII’s position and stance, with bent arms, puffed sleeves and a voluminous cloak that almost extend beyond the picture frame, infer the unsurpassable power of the reigning monarch, across from the beloved consort who has borne (or will bear), finally, his own legitimate male successor.

Roy Strong finds this Henry both definitive and repulsive.  “No one ever thinks of Henry VIII in any other way than as this gouty, pig-eyed pile of flesh, whose astounding girth is only emphasized by the layers of slashed velvets and furs that encase him.”  While the language is evocative and Henry larger than life in his elaborate garb, Strong’s reading seems inflected by retrospective knowledge (along with the vision of CharlesLaughton, among others) of Henry’s final years, when the previously handsome and athletic king was virtually immobilized by leg ulcers compounded by obesity.  But even if the viewer shares Strong’s obvious distaste, Henry’s bejeweled opulence should be read, I would argue, as a display of power and richesse.  While the details are not as clear in Remigius’ copy, Henry’s garments are related to those he sports in the Thyssen portrait, also by Holbein, made of cloth of gold and silver; as in that image, rubies fasten the slashes in his sleeves, while a chain of gold, including more rubies, stretches across his neck.  The puffed sleeves and cloak emphasize the breadth of his shoulders, but below the skirt of his doublet (which is parted by his bulging codpiece), his legs are elongated, with the shapely, well-muscled calves of a dancer.

The splendors of his fashionable garments both draw attention to and are emphasized by Henry’s pose.  Although his torso is slightly shifted to the left, suggesting the mobility and action created by Renaissance contraposto, his feet are firmly planted in a sign of authority.  Tatiana String points out that, even dressed in courtly garb, Henry stands as would a man in armor, with weight evenly distributed rather than shifted to one hip, so that the pose conflates Henry with the representation of military heroes, thus conferring “the resonance of this physical, combative identity” (146).  In Roy Strong’s reading, his placement has a specific art-historical reference as well: Henry’s is the heroic pose evolved in 15th-century Florence to represent “figures of knightly triumph against tremendous, often supernatural powers,” such as Donatello’s St George, for example, or Perugino’s St. Michael; Henry, Strong affirms, “joins them in the double role of imperator and chevalier” (39).  That duality is especially visible in the positioning of his hands, with one reflecting a courtly role by holding a glove, while the other reaches toward the short dagger that juts horizontally, toward the stone altar, with phallic effect.  The dynamism created by Henry’s bent-armed pose is in marked contrast to the almost passive quality of the bent arms of the other three figures in the work, where the women bring their hands together in a sedate and modest pose, and the older king lounges nonchalantly with his elbow resting on the altar.  With or without armor, the image of Henry VIII reflects power and masculinity.

The representation of Henry VIII in Remigius’ copy of the finished wall painting differs in one notable respect from that in the cartoon: rather than looking to one side, he stares straight ahead, a pose made famous in innumerable copies.  Although it is unclear where exactly on the wall the image was located, in the intimate space of the Privy Chamber,[12] the perspective implies, in Foister’s terms that “Henry looks out rather than down”;[13] his head would have directly faced the viewer, his piercing eyes deliberately meeting our gaze with an impassive stare.  Citing the words of a 16th-century ambassador, Strong declares that “Henry alone communicates with the onlooker and the effect on visitors was that they were abashed, annihilated.”

In the conventions of Renaissance painting, a direct look, breaking the “fourth wall” of Alberti’s “window onto nature,” is designed to draw the viewer into the world of the painting; the baby Jesus of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Madonna del latte, for example, invites us to join him in the Eucharist symbolized by his suckling.[14]  But Henry’s gaze is especially arresting and unusual.  The fully-frontal portrait is infrequent in 16th-century art; a 1548 treatise by a Portuguese humanist, Francisco de Holanda, describes such a portrait as “graceless,”[15] and Lorne Campbell notes that  “the full-face view can give the impression of so direct a confrontation…that the spectator may feel uneasy” (81).  Holbein subsequently used a frontal view (presumably to render more honest) his portraits of potential brides Christina of Denmark and Anne of Cleves, but the shift from the slightly turned head found in both the cartoon and related portraiture of Henry (for example, the Thyssen portrait) to the mural’s direct stare renders the figure even more authoritative and imposing.[16]  

Henry is not just powerful but specifically masculine, as evidenced by his pose, his beard and his codpiece, to which Tatiana String argues our attention is specifically drawn by the painting’s construction of  “two triangles which meet, visually, at the codpiece.

The splayed legs and the distance between the feet create the first; the shoulders are an equal width and form one side of the second triangle with the bent right arm acting as the second side and the left arm the third.  Holbein has, thereby, created a clear focal point at the groin, one which forces his viewers to confront …the large, protruding codpiece.”[17]

We have already seen that the volume and luxury of Henry’s garments serve as conveyors of prestige and power.  As Carole Frick has discussed, as clothing for the elite “became a powerful visual designator of the more abstract political and social concerns” of those wearing it,” although the codpiece had initially emerged “as a necessary modest addition to complete the male costume” comprised of short doublets and tunics, what had previously served primarily as a protective component of armor becomes, along with beards and short hair, part of the displayed vocabulary of masculinity.  Ostentatious codpieces, accordingly, are a prominent feature of 16th-century fashion and portraiture, serving as an affirmation of the wearer’s physical endowment and potency. [18]  The specific emphasis on the codpiece and the overall virile representation of Henry VIII is significant in a work explicitly focused on genealogy and the perpetuation of the Tudor lineage, established only two generations prior by Henry VII.  In Remigius’ reproduction, the two couples flank a stone altar bearing an inscription that both extolls the heroism of each of the two kings depicted and establishes a competition: “Great the contest (and) the rivalry, great the debate whether the father or the son were victor.”

If it rejoice thee to behold the glorious likenesses of heroes, look on these, for greater no tablet ever bore.  Great the contest (and) the rivalry, great the debate whether the father or the son were victor.  Each was the victor, the father over his foes, for he quenched the fires of civil strife and to his people granted lasting peace.

The son, born to yet greater destiny, from the altars banished the undeserving and in their place set men of worth. To his outstanding virtue the presumption of popes yielded, and when Henry VIII in his hand wielded the scepter (true) religion was restored, and in his reign the precepts of God began to be held in their due honour. [19]

The peace-bringing father is described as a victor “over his foes,” having “quenched the fires of civil strife,” but the son is “born to yet greater destiny” – namely, the wresting of the church from the pope and the re-establishment of “true religion.”  As Strong argues, the inscription, along with the painting itself, mirrors a progressive view of history present in the historiography of the Tudor period, in which the kings of England are presented as a pageant of worthy (or negative) exempla, culminating in the glory of Henry VIII, in Polydorius Vergil’s words, the “fruit of the union” of the houses of Lancaster and York, “in whom the true royal lines were joined.”[20]

          Henry is also, as we have seen, the dominant and active figure in the painting.  Neither queen meets the viewer’s gaze; rather, each stares impassively into the distance beyond the left side of the painting, her body aligned with her head.  Henry VII’s eyes do engage the viewer, but his face is painted in a three-quarter view less striking than his son’s full-frontal position, and his robes, their ermine lining visible at the cuffs and in the long sleeve slits, bear more resemblance to the gowns of the queens on the left than to his son’s fashion-forward and overtly masculine attire.
Critics have frequently pointed out the resemblance of this painting’s structure to that of Holbein’s Ambassadors, painted in 1534;[21] a full discussion of that work is well beyond the scope of this essay, except to note that both images, according to Roy Strong, lack a central focal point – a dilemma solved for the earlier painting, he argues, by the still-life of books and instruments at the work’s center but “unsatisfactorily” by the mural’s dedicatory inscription (49).  In my view, however, a possible solution to the problem is offered by another genre of work Strong mentions as “an immediate single compositional source,” i.e., the commonly depicted Madonna and Child enthroned within a room and flanked by saints, known in Italian as a sacra conversazione.  He gives as an example an altarpiece by CosimoRoselli, observing that “by removing the Virgin and Child the group would be reduced to four figures placed in an ascending order on either side of a marble dais.  The source for Holbein’s great work could not be more succinctly demonstrated” (49-50).  Although Strong does not make the connection, to me the answer to the “missing central focal point” is right here, and is, in fact, explicitly spelled out in Remigius’ Petworth copy of the mural, likely created for the Seymour family.  In this version, the inscription of the stone altar is replaced by the representation of Edward VI, a smaller, mirror image of his father, with the same feathered cap and an ermine-bordered cloak (recalling his grandfather’s) that – despite his delicate head, hands and legs – has the same capacious and expansive volume as his father’s.  The white diagonals of his bent arms (the right, like his father’s, holding a rapier) guide the viewer’s eyes to his hands which, along with the blue pouch that extends from the right, frame Edward’s own projecting codpiece that asserts his place in the ascendant Tudor dynasty – somewhat wistfully, in this retrospective copy, since Edward in fact died without issue.  To underscore that generative link, in the Petworth copy, the king’s emphasized codpiece directs our gaze to the boy;  in the original mural dated 1537 (Edward’s birth year), the king’s generative organ points directly in front of the altar, suggesting his son as the definitive resolution to the inscription’s question, and the absent presence in the painting. 

          Just as the reading of even as erudite a critic as Roy Strong is inflected by later, less sympathetic versions of Henry’s iconic full-frontal image, our understanding of the copies – and of the mural itself, were it still extant – is colored by our knowledge of the subsequent events of succession – the death in adolescence of the sickly Edward VI; the brief reign of Lady Jane Gray; the restoration of Catholicism under Mary, and the Tudor triumph of Elizabeth, who of course died without an heir.  The ideal, as well as the real contemporary viewer of the 1530’s, knew none of this, but only that both Tudor kings depicted had faced repeated threats to their rule; their male successor would, it was fervently hoped, settle the succession after the turmoil not just of the attempts at rebellion and assassination from the outside, but the internecine strife created by the divorce and all the concomitant events surrounding Henry VIII’s first two marriages. Even the way in which the representation of Henry VIII surpasses that of VII underscores that the king’s – any king’s -- ultimate dynastic triumph is fathering a son.  Paradoxically, however, until that son himself becomes king, the prince points to the power of his reigning father.

          That understanding of the living king’s son as a projection of his father can be helpful in reading Holbein’s New Year’s painting of Edward, a portrait not so much of a toddler but rather a prince, proleptically posed and wardrobed to reflect his future role as King of England as well as his status as the son of Henry VIII.  The connection is further underscored by the verses inscribed on the parapet, exorting the “little one” (parvule) to emulate his father:

Little one!  Imitate your father, and be the heir of his virtue, the world contains nothing greater – Heaven and Nature could scarcely give a son whose glory should surpass that of such a father.  You only equal the acts of your parent, the wishes of men cannot go beyond this.  Surpass him, and you have surpassed all the kings the world ever worshipped, and none will ever surpass you.

The theme of rivalry that the Whitehall inscription established between two successive and successful kings is evoked again; here, the competition serves to praise the father by suggesting that even to equal him is already to surpass all others.  The theme of imitation is reflected in the presentation of the child within the painting: although his body is turned slightly to his right, Edward is presented facing frontally in the central foreground of the painting, mirroring his father’s presentation in the portrait of Henry now in Rome, and attributed to Holbein’s studio.  That Henry likewise appears against a blue ground, as did Edward, although the color has now faded.[22]  Although unlike Henry in the Thyssen portrait, the prince is not popping out of the frame, he is the image’s sole figure, and his rich red cloak creates a monumentality that joins with the parapet to establish a pyramid.   Unlike the portraits of Henry, although Edward’s face is likewise toward the viewer, his blue eyes are cast slightly down.

Edward has fair skin with a rosy complexion, coral bowed lips, and the extremely chubby cheeks of a well-fed toddler.  His delicate features and coloring, along with his slightly downcast eyes, recall feminine ideals of beauty during the period, even as the golden-red bangs along his forehead remind us of his father.  The cap on his head, topped with delicately-depicted white feathers, recalls the headgear of his father in his own portraits, while the close-fitting bonnet  beneath seems the only item an actual baby might wear.  Otherwise, he is richly garbed in clothing appropriate for an adult male, in expensive red and cloth of gold, with bright white ruffs at the wrist and at his neck, serving – like the feather in his cap – to accentuate the rich colors of the rest of his garments.

          But if, as in his father’s portraits, his garments project authority and privilege, his hands are dimpled baby hands.  One is open, waving in a possible gesture of munificence, while the other holds a gold rattle.  Although it has been argued the rattle is a burlesque of the kingly accoutrements of orb and scepter, missing from portraits of Henry but implied by his prepossessing presence, the shape and coloring of the ornate red and gold toy also evoke the elaborate codpieces that we have seen are a distinctive presence in portraiture of this period in general, and in representations of Henry – notably, the portrait now in Rome and, of course, the Whitehall mural.  In a discussion of codpieces in Italian Renaissance images of boys, Carole Frick has argued that this “socially constructed image of masculinity,” the codpiece, serves to “demonstrate familial stability.”

Prince Edward, simultaneously signaling his prodigious future in his dress and pose, his role as Henrician heir with his father’s clothes and coloring is both the sign of and shares in his father’s masculinity The codpiece in his chubby little hand suggests not just his own future power and virility, but that of the father he is called to emulate.

          The Latin inscription by Robert Morison – exhorting the parvule patrissa (the father’s little one) to emulate his father and be heir of his virtue – verbally underscores that, despite the boy’s regal bearing, he remains endearingly a child, but with the seeds of greatness within by virtue of the legitimate parentage that shines through his physical features.  Even the rattle, in its resemblance to a codpiece, conjures his father’s masculinity and prowess (sexual and otherwise), as it proleptically evokes not just the son’s role as heir, but, in turn, as future father to future Tudor heirs.

[2] On the significance of the Madonna lactans, see, most influentially, Margaret Miles, “The Virgin’s One Bare Breast: Female Nudity and Religious Meaning in Tuscan Early Renaissance Culture,” in The Female Body in Western Culture, ed. Susan Suleiman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), pp. 193-208.  On the complexities of the image for the Catholic Reformation, see my “To Bare or Not too Bare: Sofonisba Anguissola’s Nursing Madonna and the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding,” in Maternal Measures: Figuring Caregiving in the Early Modern Period, ed. Naomi J. Miller and Naomi Yavneh (London and Burlington: Ashgate Press, 2000), pp. 65-81.
[3] This discussion, fascinating as it is, is not the topic of this paper.  See Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, revised, 1994).
[4] See Yavneh, “Sofonisba Anguissola,” op. cit.
[5] An excellent and detailed consideration of portraiture is provided by Lorne Campbell, Renaissance Portraits (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990).  See also John Pope-Hennessy, The Portrait in the Renaissance.  Bollingen Series XXXV.12 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).
[6] The bibliography and debate on this topic is broad.  In addition to Roy Strong’s Holbein and Henry VIII (London and New York, 1960) and  Tatiana String’s Art and Communication in the Reign of Henry VIII (Aldershot and Burliington, 2008), both cited in this essay, see, among others, Sydney Anglo, Spectacle, pageantry, and early Tudor policy (Oxford, 1969) and John Kng, Tudor Royal Iconography: Literature and Art in an Age of Religious Crisis (Princeton, 1989).
[7] Titian, for example, painted a portrait of the Duchess of Urbino, Giulia Varano, from some of her garments and her husband’s verbal description of his wife.  See Campbell, 144.  A century after Henry VIII’s death, Charles I’s niece Sophia, Electress of Hanover, wrote of her surprise to see Queen Henrietta Maria, “whom I had seen so beautiful in her painting [by Van Dyck], was really a tiny woman…with long, withered arms, crooked shoulders, and teeth projecting from her mouth like defences.”  My translation from the French quoted in Campbell, p. 247, n. 9, citing A Kocher, ed. Memoiren der Herzogin Sophie nachmals Kurfurstin von Hannover  (Publicationen aus den K. Presussischen Staatsarchiven, iv, 1), Leipzig, 1879, p. 38.  That the primary purpose of Renaissance portraiture was often not simple verisimilitude does not negate that paintings were often used in arranging noble alliances.  Holbein, notably, was sent to the continent after the death of Jane Seymour to capture the likenesses of several potential queens, including Christina of Denmark  and, ill-fatedly, Anne of Cleves.  The aims of such portraiture would have determined certain features such as the pose: both women are seen frontally (and Christina, full-length), not fashionable at the time, but designed, presumably, to present the women as honestly as possible.  That choice, again, does not mean that the representation was not in some way idealized or that no flaws were hidden, any more than in other portraits.  Lorne Campbell suggests that the frontal portrait of Anne might have hid the very long nose that Henry found distasteful.

[8]Strong, p. 35. The 1667 copy is still in the Royal Collections while the 1669 is now at Petworth house.
[9]Susan Foister, Holbein in England  (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 175.  The cartoon, which measures 257.8 x 137.2 cm, is in the National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG 4027).
[10] Foister, 175
[11] String, p. 52
[12] Unfortunately, the exact structure and design of the Whitehall Privy Chamber are unknown.  According to Foister, the chamber was 22 feet (7 meters) wide on the south wall; based on the cartoon, the mural’s dimensions would have been 11’10” x 8’10” (3.6 x 2.7 meters) or perhaps a little bigger (181).
[13] The placement of the mural within the Privy Chamber is a matter of scholarly debate, especially regarding height.  Strong argues that the architectural detailing within the mural would have made it a continuation of the decorative painting that appeared on the upper level above a layer of paneling, and below a frieze that extends in paint into the mural.  The work’s perspective is thus “that of an altarpiece, to which people gazed up”” (51-52).  Henry’s “dais, chair and cloth of estate” would have been placed below his image, framing “the gross figure of Henry VIII” as “the living embodiment of the genealogy of the Houses of York and Lancaster above him” (54).  More recently, Susan Foister has proposed that the almost life-size of the figures suggests that “they and the space around them were intended to deceive viewers into believing that they were in the royal presence,” pointing out that “the feet of the foreground figures, who stand on a step, are shown slightly from above, not from below” (182).
[14] According to early modern humoral theory, milk is blood, whitened.
[15] Sanchez-Canton, 1921, p. 63.  Cited in Campbell, p. 81
[16] The frontal pose was a model for subsequent portraiture, for example the portrait now in Rome.
[17] String article 149
[18] Frick, “Boys to Men: Codpieces and Masculinity in 16th-Century Europe.”  In Gender and Early Modern Constructions of Childhood, ed. Naomi J. Miller and Naomi Yavneh (Ashgate, 2011), p. 158.
[19] Si ucat heroum claras videsse figuras,
Specta has, maiores nulla tabella tulit.
Certamen magnum, ls, quaestio magna paterne.
Fius an vincat.  Vicit. Uterque quidem.
Iste suos hostes, patriaeque incendia saepe
Sustulit, et pacem civibus usque dedit.

Filius ad maiora quidem prognatus ab aris
Sumovet indignosi substituitque probos.
Certae, virtuti, paparum audacia cessit,
Henrico octavo sceptra gerente manu
Reddita religio est, isto regnante deique
Dogmata ceperunt esse in honore suo
Cited in Strong, 57, where he credits Margot Eates with the translation.
[20]“I have now come to an end of my writing at a fortunate time; for I, who previously in describing party strife dwelt for long on the cruel slaughter of civil war, now – all faction dead – come to the description of most quiet and flourishing condition of the state.” Polydorius Vergil, Anglica Historia.  Cited in Strong, 58. 
[21] Foister, for example, notes that Henry VII’s pose echoes that of Georges de Selve, but in reverse. 183
[22] The pigment, according to Foister, was the blue glass pigment smalt, also used in the background of the painting of Jane Seymour, his mother, now in Vienna (197-98).

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