Edward VI was the only son of King Henry VIII, by his third wife, Jane Seymour, and just nine years old when he succeeded to the throne. As he matured, Edward developed a deep interest in religious policy and his reign, although brief, is important as it marked a continuation and consolidation of the English Reformation, something which his sister Mary, who succeeded him as Queen of England, was unable to reverse. As Henry's only son and the male heir to the throne, portraiture of Edward is one of the more extensive of any royal Tudor child. The earliest portrait is a drawing by Holbein of circa 1539-40, done when the prince was two years old (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle), already depicting him in an authoritative, full frontal pose, and which Holbein later developed into a celebrated oil portrait (National Gallery, Washington, D.C.).
Despite his apparent fame and stature at court, making firm attributions of existing paintings to Scrots has proved difficult. The work most closely associated with him is an anamorphic portrait of Edward VI in the National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG 1299) painted when the sovereign was nine years old. Rendered in distorted perspective, a technique designed to display the virtuosity of the painter, the correct image only becomes apparent when seen from the viewing hole on the right side. As it is such an unusual work, it is difficult to use as a reference point from which to make other attributions. However, it seems certain that Scrots was responsible for the design of the most important official portrait of Edward as king, of which the present painting is one of the rare extant examples.
This full length portrait of Edward depicts the young king at about the age of fifteen and not long before his untimely death from consumption in 1553. It adopts the full frontal, standing pose used so effectively by Holbein for his portraits of Henry VIII. This portrait type is known in four other versions, all on panel and of similar dimensions: in the Royal Collection (167 by 90.5 cm.); the Musée du Louvre (168 by 87 cm.) [fig. 1]; the Musée Joseph-Déchelette, Roanne; and formerly in the Duke of Marlborough's collection at Blenheim Palace (158 by 89.5 cm.) [fig. 2]. The Royal Collection and Musée Joseph-Déchelette versions depict the king in a black costume with gold embroidery and black tights; age-wise he appears, perhaps, around thirteen. In the present version and those in the Louvre and formerly at Blenheim, Edward appears to be more mature and is wearing a brown costume with gold embroidery and white tights. The Louvre version shows Edward wearing the order of the Garter, but this is thought to be a later addition. Unique to the present version is the laudatory inscription in English, Latin and Greek, suggesting that this version may have been intended for export abroad to a foreign country, possibly intended for the educated members of a foreign court where these languages would have been understood.3 In fact, documents show that in March 1552, Scrots was paid 50 marks for “three great tables,” the term “table” denoting a full-length portrait. Two were portraits of Edward VI and the third a portrait of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The portraits of Edward were to be sent abroad to Sir John Mason and Sir Thomas Hoby. Mason was ambassador to France when the marriage treaty between Edward VI and a daughter of Henry II of France was settled on 20 July 1551, and a portrait is mentioned as being sent to him in October 1551.4 Any portraits of Edward sent during these negotiations would certainly have been the most up-to-date likenesses of the king and so it seems probable that the portrait type, of which the present work is an example, may have been commissioned for such a purpose.
Dendrochronological analysis of the Los Angeles panel support has revealed that it is made up of four oak boards from different trees, originating in the eastern Baltic region of Europe, still growing in 1534 and likely to have been felled after circa 1542. Lending support to the possibility that this portrait and the ex-Blenheim portrait could be identifiable with the two “great tables” for which Scrots was paid in 1552, are remarkable findings linking the panel supports of both portraits. They are of identical and unusual construction: both are made up of four oak boards of Baltic origin, aligned vertically; there is a narrow left hand board and 3 wide boards, and both have merchants or cargo marks on the reverse (thought to be marks derived from the stacking of packets of boards during shipment) [fig. 3]. Furthermore, dendrochronological analysis has shown that one of the boards in each portrait comes from the same tree. Based on these extraordinary findings, it can be concluded that the panel supports of the Los Angeles and ex-Blenheim portraits were most likely made by the same panel maker at the same time.
The full dendrochronological analysis report on the present painting, prepared by Ian Tyers in November 2013, is available upon request.
1. See R. Strong, The English Icon, Elizabethan & Jacobean Portraiture, New Haven 1969, pp. 5 and 7.
2. See E. Waterhouse, Painting in Britian, Edinburgh 1969, p. 11.
3. Ibid., p. 13.
4. See E. Auerbach, Tudor Portraits, 1954, pp. 74-75.
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