The Power of an Image - The Story of Henry VIII and his painter

King Henry VIII of England is loved and hated for the legacy he left during his reign and he is probably enjoyed most for the Tudor style architecture and art that thrived under his patronage. He loved life and lived it laviously up until the time he got injured during a jousting tournament that turned him into the tyrant that history remembers him for; executing one wife after another, breaking away from the Catholic Church and cementing his image as the divine ruler chosen to lead when he created his own Church of England.

Up until the birth of his son with Jane Seymour, king Henry VIII was in a most vulnerable position. It was always important to him to be seen as a brave, valiant, worthy and strong leader and he would finally find the perfect way to do just that when he made Hans Holbein the Younger his court portrait artist. During Jane's pregnancy king Henry VIII ordered Hans Holbein to paint his portrait (the original included Jane Seymour and Henry VIII's parents) and gave Holbein artistic license. "The painting has frequently been described as a work of propaganda designed to enhance Henry's majesty. It deliberately skews Henry VIII's figure to make him more imposing." Considering that Henry VIII at the time was morbidly obese, Holbein added gigantic shoulder pads to allow him to lengthen Henry's legs to make his image aesthetically more pleasing. At the time it was improper and unheard of for a king to be painted faced forward (and the original surviving cartoon of Holbein preserved in the National Portrait Gallery in London shows Henry looking side ways), but again king Henry VIII ordered that the image be adjusted as such, and this change made the image ever the more imposing.

Hans Holbein was a german artist and printmaker who travelled to England in search of work. It was Anne Boleyn who employed him and through her king Henry VIII became acquainted with him and hired him as the royal painter. Hans Holbein was well known for the excellent portraits he painted and was even commissioned by king Henry VIII, after Jane Seymours' death, to travel to Europe to paint princesses for him to choose from as his next wife. One famously said that she would love to become England's queen....if she had two heads! Holbein also became very well known centuries later when the style of Persian carpets he used in his paintings were named "Holbein carpets" in the absence of knowing the actual origin of the carpets.

Henry VIII was so pleased with the portrait that he encouraged other artists to copy it and many nobles commissioned their own copies of it to show their loyalty to the king. Sadly the original was destroyed in 1698 in a fire that consumed Whitehall Palace but thanks to all the copies, the portrait survives and today it is the only image anyone ever connects to king Henry VIII.

In proper Holbein style a carpet was added under foot to add to the opulence!