Lot 8
  • 8

Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger

800,000 - 1,200,000 GBP
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  • Sir Peter Paul Rubens
  • Portrait of King Henry VIII (1491–1547)
  • oil on oak panel


Possibly acquired in 1801 by George Greville, 2nd Earl of Warwick (1746–1816), and first recorded in the collection at Warwick Castle in 1815;

Thence by descent to David Greville, 8th Earl of Warwick (1934–96);

From whom acquired in situ; 

Thence to the present owner.


Manchester, City Art Gallery, Art Treasures, 1857, no. 471 (as by Holbein);

London, South Kensington Museum, National Portrait Exhibition, 1866, no. 99;

London, New Gallery, 1890, no. 126.


Anon., 'Pictures and Articles of Curiosity', in Inventory of the Contents of Warwick Castle, (Warwickshire Record Office CR1886/466), Ms., circa 1800, n.p. (listed hanging in the passage in the private apartments of the Castle);

Recorded in the notebook of the picture restorer Robert Brown, under the date 20 June 1801, at the end of a list of payments received from the Earl of Warwick – 'Remains to buying the Portrait of King Henry by Holbein – £1', V&A National Art Library, MSL/1993/3/1, p. 10;

W. Field, An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Town & Castle of Warwick and of the neighbouring Spa of Leamington, Warwick 1815, p. 220 (listed hanging in the passage in the private apartments of the Castle);

S. Woodburne, Notes on the Paintings at Warwick Castle, (Warwickshire Record Office CR1886/783/12), Ms., 1832, no. 15 (listed hanging in the Library – ‘A very fine Picture I think by H Holbein and fine of him’);

G. F. Waagen, Works of Art and Artists in England, 3 vols, London 1838, vol. III, p. 206 (where he refers to the picture formerly at Castle Howard as 'an  old copy of the picture at Warwick Castle');

C. W. Spicer, Vitruvius Britannicus. History of Warwick Castle, London 1844, p. 35 (listed hanging in Lady Warwick’s Boudoir);

H. T. Cooke, An Historical and Descriptive Guide to Warwick Castle…, Warwick 1847, pp. 60–61 (listed hanging over the mantel-piece in Lady Warwick’s Boudoir);

Cooper’s, History of Warwick and Guide to the Castle, illustrated, 1850, pp. 90–91, (listed hanging in the Countess of Warwick’s Boudoir);

W. Kendall, Inventory of Warwick Castle, (Warwickshire Record Office CR1886/783/16), Ms., 1853, (listed hanging in the End Room);

G. F. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 3 vols, London 1854, vol. III, p. 215 (seen in situ at the Castle on his visit in 1835, as ‘Holbein – King Henry VIII. To the knees, the size of life; full front… a masterpiece of Holbein);

Anon, Inventory of Warwick Castle, (Warwickshire Record Office CR1886/703), Ms., circa 1870, (listed hanging in the Boudoir);

A. Woltmann, Holbein und seine Zeit des Kunstlers Familie, Leben und Schaffen, 2 vols, 2nd revised ed., Leipzig 1874–76, vol. II, p. 21;

Anon., ‘Henry VIII’, in The Magazine of Art, XVIII, 1895, pp. 212–13, reproduced;

F. E. Warwick, ‘Warwick Castle’, in The Pall Mall Magazine, vol. XI, January–April 1898, p. 37 (listed hanging in the Boudoir);

Anon., Inventory of the contents of Warwick Castle, (Warwickshire Record Office CR1886/703), Ms., 1900 (listed hanging in the State Boudoir);

The Countess of Warwick, Warwick Castle & its Earls from Saxon times to the present day, 1903, p. 808;

A. B. Chamberlain, Hans Holbein the Younger, 2 vols, London 1913, vol. II, pp. 101–02; 

‘Warwick Castle, Warwickshire. The seat of the Earl of Warwick – II’, in Country Life, June 1914, p. 844, illustrated hanging in the Little Boudoir;

Illustrated London News, 14 October 1933, reproduced;

P. Ganz, 'Henry VIII and His Court Painter, Hans Holbein', in The Burlington Magazine, vol. LXIII, no. 368, November 1933, p. 134;

H. A. Schmid, ‘Ein zweites, besseres ‘neuentdecktes’ Bildnis Heinrichs VIII’, in National-Zeitung, DX, 2 November 1933;

P. Ganz, 'The Castle Howard Portrait of Henry VIII', in The Burlington Magazine, vol. LXIV, no. 371, February 1934, pp. 85–86, reproduced pls I & II;

H. A. Schmid, ‘Kann man die Urheberschaft Holbeins den Jüngeren nur auf Grund von Photographien Ablehnen?’, in Jahrbuch der Preuszischen Kunstsammlungen, LV, 1934, pp. 126–38, reproduced p. 130, p. 135 (detail) and p. 137 (detail);

H. Kuhn, ‘Heinrich VIII – Howard or Warwick, that is the Question’, in Das Werk, LXIV, 1934, pp. 221–24;  

P. Ganz, The Paintings of Hans Holbein, London 1956, p. 254;

R. Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2 vols, London 1969, vol. I, p. 159;

E. Michael, Hans Holbein the Younger. A Guide to Research, New York and Abingdon 1977, pp. 78–79;

R. Salvini and H. W. Grohn, L'Opera Completa di Holbein, Milan 1971, p. 109;

D. Schaff, ‘The Manchester Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger’, in Art International, XXIII, 1979/80, pp. 44–57;

J. Rowlands, Holbein. The paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger, Oxford 1985, p. 236, no. R.37(b), reproduced pl. 245.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Workshop of Hans Holbein. Portrait of King Henry VIII. This painting is on a strong oak panel, with three joints all backed in the past by narrow strips of canvas. There have never been any cross bars or disturbances of the panel such as cradling, and the wood seems to have remained unusually stable, (especially since it once hung apparently over a fireplace). The joints have had a tendency to open near the top with less movement lower down. The central joint has seemingly never been open down its entire length, and the right joint has only a very fine line of retouching in the lower half of the panel. In the upper part of the painting however the central and left joint are now in fact partly open, and the fine craquelure nearby in the upper left background seems to have been susceptible to movement. Nevertheless the general stability of the panel over time is remarkable. There appears to be only one brief crack from the centre of the top edge with another possibly from the right of the base edge. There has apparently been quite frequent maintenance over the last century or two at Warwick Castle, with the most recent restoration having been in the 1950's. The background must have been in a rich deep green copper resinate, the full surface splendour of which, having naturally turned brown, was then unfortunately removed in error as old varnish. The King's embroidered doublet was probably a vegetable blue, also fragile and liable to lose its strength and colour, however the fine detail and gold leaf remains unperishably intact. The deepest black has also slightly lost its depth in the modelling of the hat, but the finest detail within the golden brooch is still beautifully exact. One or two small cleaning tests show that much colour does still remain quite clear in fact beneath a rather dim old varnish. There are various scattered tiny retouchings across the background and elsewhere as well as those down the joints, and a small scrape on the King's cheek. A few other more recent small chance knocks on the surface include a few at the upper left side and one on Henry's chin. The powerful head is nevertheless impressively unworn in general and strong, as are the hands. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This magnificent portrait of Henry VIII last appeared on public exhibition over a century ago, and its re-emergence here reveals it as perhaps the first and surely the finest known version of this, the last great image of the king  produced by his celebrated court painter Hans Holbein the Younger. The fact that it has remained in the famous collection of portraits at Warwick castle for over two centuries has meant its extraordinary quality has remained largely unaffected by later intervention, and its remarkable state of preservation thus allows us to see the exceptional quality and detail of jewellery and costume intact. Some three hundred years after it was painted, its likeness had not lost its power to impress. The great German art historian Gustav Waagen, who saw it in 1835, remarked:


‘There is in these features a brutal egotism, an obstinacy, and a harshness of feeling, such as I have never yet seen in any human countenance. In the eyes, too, there is the suspicious watchfulness of a wild beast, so that I became quite uncomfortable from looking at it a long time; for the picture, a masterpiece of Holbein, is as true in the smallest details as if the king himself stood before you.’

By the time this portrait was painted in the early 1540s Holbein had been in the service of the English crown for fifteen years and a Court painter for six. For all the vicissitudes of the reign of Henry VIII his position as the King’s painter was never undermined or challenged, and indeed he himself had adopted English citizenship in June of the previous year. Though he left no real pupils, his influence upon portraiture at the English Court was profound, for it was during Holbein’s time in England that the concept of the royal portrait as a potent image and symbol of the monarch was first truly developed. In Roy Strong’s words ‘the reign of Henry VIII witnesses the birth of modern royal portraiture and sets the pace for the next 300 years’, and for this he was largely responsible.1 Painted circa 1542, this likeness of the king was to be the last royal image to issue from Holbein’s studio, for the following autumn he himself had died from the plague in London.

This imposing portrait was also to prove the last official likeness of the King’s reign, for Henry himself was to die only a few years later in 1547. At this date the King would have been in his early fifties, and he is shown at a time when he was increasingly beset by poor health, recovering not only from a serious jousting accident but the breakdown of his fifth marriage to Catherine Howard (c. 1523–42), whom he had executed in the winter of 1542. Despite this the King’s presence remains formidable and he is unflinching in his gaze. He is shown at half-length in a full-frontal pose, clad in a dark green velvet surcoat worked with silver thread, over a doublet made from cloth of gold, that the artist has cleverly adopted as a means of disguising the King’s greatly increased weight, which had been brought on by his illness. In his left hand he holds a staff, which at this date he could not walk without, whilst in his right he tightly clenches a pair of leather gloves. There is no evidence that the King sat specifically to Holbein for this portrait type, but, as was usual with the working methods of Holbein’s studio, his likeness was undoubtedly evolved from an earlier drawing taken from life, which no longer survives.

Despite his privileged position in the service of the Crown, portraits by Holbein himself of Henry VIII are extremely rare, and even those issuing from his studio in his lifetime are uncommon. He is first recorded as the King’s painter in 1536, some four years after he had come to England for the second time, and he is recorded as salaried in the Royal Accounts from 1538 onwards. Even if Henry VIII gave him relatively few commissions, they were all highly important. The first and by far the most important surviving portrait of the King is that painted in 1536 when he was already forty-five (fig. 1). Today in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, this remains Holbein’s undisputed masterpiece from his years in England, and is the only certain painting entirely by Holbein’s hand of Henry VIII. It is also probably the only surviving portrait of Henry made from life, although the original ad vivum drawing which Holbein would undoubtedly have made of the King no longer survives.2 The likeness, with the King ‘s face seen in quarter profile to the right, was re-used by Holbein in the cartoon for his famous mural of the King with his third wife Jane Seymour and his parents, Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, for the Privy Chamber of King’s Palace in Whitehall, the left-hand side of which survives (National Portrait Gallery, London). The finished mural itself was destroyed by fire when the palace burned down in 1698, however its appearance is known from a seventeenth-century copy made by Remigius van Leemput for Charles II circa 1667 (Royal Collection), which shows the King’s full-face and clearly indicates a change of plan during the execution and a new sitting by the King. Again, Holbein’s original ad vivum drawing is lost, but a copy closely resembling it inscribed with the name Hans Swarttung, who may have been one of the artist’s assistants, is in the collection of the Staatliche Graphische Samlung, in Munich (fig. 2). The Whitehall likeness of the King remains the most potent image of the sovereign, and was copied and repeated in a number of replicas at both half and full-length. This is the last time Henry VIII sat to Holbein, and the face-mask was re-used in almost all later portraits of the king, including the unfinished group portrait of Henry VIII with the Barber Surgeons, painted between 1541 and 1543 (Barber-Surgeons’ Hall in London; fig. 4), and the full length portrait of the King said to have been painted for the family of Jane Seymour (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool), which was produced in Holbein’s workshop and is thought to date to circa 1540–45. The Warwick picture, while it uses the Whitehall face pattern, in the format of the body and the costume departs considerably from those in either the Whitehall or Barber Surgeons’ prototypes.

Versions and dating

The Warwick portrait of Henry has long been recognised as one of the finest versions of this image of the king.  The eminent German art historian Dr Gustav Waagen, who saw this picture on his visit to Warwick Castle in 1835, thought it the work of Holbein himself.  Much later Paul Ganz later claimed to have discovered Holbein’s prototype in the panel formerly at Castle Howard, and sold in these Rooms, 8 July 2015, lot 7, and published it as such in his catalogue of Holbein’s work in 1956. This view was not, however, shared by subsequent scholars, among them Ganz’s fellow Basel scholar Henrich Schmid defended the Warwick painting, believing it to be of superior quality and more likely to be Holbein’s prototype. More recent scholars, among them both Strong and Rowlands, have argued that none of the versions can be considered the work of Holbein himself, and indeed doubted whether they were sufficiently homogenous to be regarded as the products of a workshop pattern. It certainly seems likely that whoever painted the Warwick panel may have had access to tracings or drawings from Holbein’s studio, for the figure of the king has a convincing corporeal presence, and the representation of the folds of the costume and the hands accurately modelled. Details of the silver and gold thread on the costume, the fur, staff and the jewellery are all of a remarkably high standard throughout, all beautifully rendered within a harmonious palette of golds, greens and greys.

In addition to the Warwick and ex-Castle Howard portraits, there are a small number of other versions of this last portrait of the king, but few if anys seem to reach this level of quality. These include those at Rothesay in the collection of the Marquess of Bute, and that formerly at Kimbolton from the collection of the Dukes of Manchester. Further examples of the composition, some of which date to after the King’s death, are to be found at Knole, Melbury House, The National Portrait Gallery, the University of Cambridge, the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, the Moores Foundation at Compton Verney, and at Seaton Delaval, which is dated 1545. A slightly larger pattern, dated 1544 but on canvas and not panel and probably of later date, is at St Bartholomew's Hospital, and a reduced head-and-shoulders copy is at Chatsworth.3 In all, just over a dozen extant versions survive, but while most may have been painted during or very shortly after the King’s lifetime, in the present state of research only two or three can be shown to have been painted while Holbein was still alive – the Warwick portrait among them.

Recent dendrochronological analysis on a number of these panels, undertaken by Ian Tyers, shows that only three of these panels can claim the possibility of having been painted prior to Holbein’s death in 1543. These are the Warwick painting; the ex-Castle Howard panel, which shows heartwood rings up to 1533, which would fit the date of 1542 inscribed on the panel itself; and thirdly that from the collection of the Dukes of Manchester, formerly at Kimbolton Castle, which has a likely usage date of around 1535 onwards. The present version may well be the earliest of these, for the panel support upon which it is executed consists of four narrow oak boards cut from three trees sourced from the eastern Baltic, one of which was still growing in 1479. While this would suggest a very likely early usage for the panel, the absence of sapwood on any of the boards precludes a more accurate dating. The panels at Seaton Delaval and in the National Portrait Gallery, by contrast, date respectively from 1545 and 1547 onwards and so are likely to have been painted during the King’s lifetime or very close to it, but after Holbein’s death.

The fact that the portraits are of similar size, and that dated examples and recent existing dendrochronological evidence seems to point to a limited period of production, suggest that the final portrait type of the King was indeed produced from a pattern in Holbein’s workshop. The relatively small number of extant versions might similarly suggest that the type was limited, and ceased to be produced not long after the King’s death. However, the nature of Holbein’s workshop is not known, for no documentary source makes any mention of his apprentices or pupils, and the problem of whether Holbein himself organised the repetition of some of his English portraits is unresolved. That said, recent technical analysis suggests that contemporary versions of the Whitehall portrait type now in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and Petworth House were painted by artists who had either worked alongside him at Whitehall or who had access to his studio, its cartoons and designs.4 Holbein’s working technique of using tracings meant that copied drawings or traced patterns could be made of the original portraits of important clients such as the King. Holbein certainly seems to have used studio assistants at this date to help him execute the very large panel of Henry VIII with the Barber-Surgeons and it is probable that they were entrusted with its completion after his death in 1543.

Note on Provenance

Although the early provenance of this picture is at present unknown, by the early years of the nineteenth century the painting had entered the collection of George Greville, 2nd Earl of Warwick (1746–1816), an avid collector who made it his life’s work to adorn the family seat, Warwick Castle. The castle had first been acquired by the Greville family in 1604 from James I, and at the time the 2nd Earl inherited in 1773 the few paintings in the collection consisted of a set of views of the castle and grounds by Canaletto, which had been commissioned by his father and hung in the family’s London house, a group of family portraits and a collection of Italian paintings attributed to Bassano, del Sarto, Leonardo, Manfredi, Marratta, Mola, and Palma, as well as a single Rembrandt.5 Educated at Eton and Edinburgh and Oxford Universities, Warwick made the Grand Tour in 1776/7 and on his return to England became a Member of Parliament, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians. He was in his mid-20s when his father died and it was not until his second marriage to Henrietta Vernon in 1776 that he really turned his energies to the castle and its collection – it may also have helped that, in his own words, ‘a most valuable coal mine was discovered by Mr. Vancover on my Warwick Estates’ thereby giving him the means to make improvements on a grand scale.6 Engaging the services of his uncle, the great antiquarian and British Envoy to Naples, Sir William Hamilton, as well as a number of other agents, the 2nd Earl began to amass one of the greatest collections ever to have been assembled in England. When it came to paintings portraiture was his particular passion, as he wrote to his uncle in August 1779: 'I’m going on by degrees to furnish all the Rooms… It is an expensive work and must be done with care… Fine Portraits are what I particularly desire to have and some very fine ones I now have but not enough, should you see any well-painted agreeable, head or half lengths in old dresses, I should be much obliged to you to purchase them for me.'

When an inventory of the castle was taken in 1806, by which time the Earl was on the verge of bankruptcy, he owned thirty-one portraits by or attributed to Van Dyck, and twelve by Rubens. As late as 1815 William Carey was still trying to persuade him to buy another Rubens. Indeed the walls were crowded with Italian and Flemish paintings interspersed with both family and historical portraits. The richly carved tables with their marble tops groaned with classical marbles, bronzes, silver gilt, rock crystal, Limoges enamels, lava vases of Etruscan shape, and other works of art. The 2nd Earl had succeeded in transforming the rather modest collection of his ancestors into one that vied with Beckford’s at Fonthill Abbey. Sufficient was its fame that it warranted a visit by Britain’s most knowledgeable (and profligate) collector; readers of the Morning Chronicle, as they sat at their breakfast on 9 September 1806, would read that 'His Royal Highness (The Prince Regent) went through all the apartments (at the castle) and viewed, en virtuoso, the valuable collection of pictures which had been, from time to time, placed in the noble residence, the whole arrangement of which is perfect in character with the sublime antiquity of the structure'. The Royal Visit heralded many others and by 1815, the local historian, William Field, published An Historical and Descriptive Account of Warwick…, which provided the many visitors with descriptions of what they would see. Further guide books followed (see Literature) extolling what Daisy, Countess of Warwick, described in 1903 as the work of 'the great virtuoso of the house'. 

The portrait of King Henry is first securely mentioned at the castle in an anonymous inventory of the contents taken about 1800, when it was listed hanging in the private apartments of the castle. Samuel Woodburn, who published his Notes on the Paintings at Warwick Castle following his visit in 1832 referred to the Portrait of Henry VIII as ‘a very fine Picture I think by H Holbein and fine of him’. It was later moved to Lady Warwick's Boudoir, where it was admired by figures as diverse as the great German scholar Gustav Waagen and the Egyptian general Ibrahim Pasha (1789–1848), who was particularly impressed by it when he visited the castle during his European tour in 1846.

No receipt for the picture's purchase has yet been found in the Warwick archives, however an entry in the notebook of the picture restorer Robert Brown, held in the archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s National Art Library, at the end of a list of payments received from the Earl of Warwick, dated 20 June 1801, reads: 'Remains to buying the Portrait of King Henry by Holbein – £1'. Robert Brown (c. 1763–1834) was active as a picture restorer and picture dealer from 1797 to 1834, as well as a landscape painter who exhibited at the Royal Academy. The Earl of Warwick was by far his most significant client, and is listed thirteen times in the first account book (1797–1804). Brown also spent over three months at Warwick Castle in 1799, cleaning and repairing pictures, for which he charged £65.12s.6d at a rate of £5.5s a week.7 Whilst one pound would have been a very small sum to pay for this portrait, even in 1801, the wording of the entry suggests that it might have been part of a down payment on credit, rather than the whole cost of the purchase, and is the only known reference to the possible acquisition of the picture.  


1. Strong 1968, p. 157.

2. Panel, 28 x 20 cm. I. Lübbecke, The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Early German Paintings 1350–1550, London 1991, pp. 250–55, reproduced.

3. For the most detailed list see Strong 1968, p. 159 and Rowlands 1985, p. 236.

4. See X. Brooke and D. Crombie, Henry VIII revealed. Holbein’s Portrait and its Legacy, exh. cat. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 2003.

5. The antiquarian Thomas Pennant visited Warwick in 1776 and left a list of the pictures amongst his papers (Warwickshire Record Office CR 2017/TP10). 

6. A Narrative of the peculiar case of the late Earl of Warwick from his Lordship’s own manuscript, London 1816.

7. Brown’s other important clients included the Earl Harcourt, for whom he cleaned pictures in his studio, and also spent fifteen days at Nuneham House, Oxfordshire, in 1807, treating Lord Harcourt’s pictures for a guinea a day; Lord Frederick Campbell, for whom Brown undertook considerable work in 1797 and 1798; the Duke of Grafton; and the Earl of Chesterfield (Ref. British picture restorers, 1600–1950, 2nd edition, August 2014).