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Major exhibition of Holbein’s portraits from the Tudor court to go on display at The Queen’s Gallery

Release date: Monday 3 July 2023

Hans Holbein the Younger, Mary Shelton, later Lady Heveningham, c.1543?©

This winter, a major exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace will bring together over 100 works from Henry VIII’s court, including drawings, paintings and miniatures by Hans Holbein the Younger drawn from the Royal Collection, one of the most important surviving groups of the artist’s work. Together, they will form the largest group of Holbein’s works from the Royal Collection to be exhibited in over 30 years.

Holbein at the Tudor Court will highlight works from Holbein’s time at court in the first half of the 16th century, when he rose to become the most important artist in Tudor England. This exhibition will tell the story of Holbein’s career in England, from itinerant artist to king’s painter, showing how the vibrant international court culture he found on his arrival in London formed a fertile ground for his future success.

The exhibition and accompanying publication will examine Holbein’s artistic techniques, his career in England and the lives of the men and women who commissioned his portraits, from members of the Tudor royal family to writers, churchmen and senior figures at court. Holbein’s skill as an artist was instrumental in cementing friendships, marking occasions such as marriage and as a tool in dynastic negotiations.

Works will include drawings, paintings, miniatures, and book illustrations by the artist and will tell the stories of his sitters through the portraits Holbein produced. At the heart of the exhibition will be over 40 portrait drawings, including depictions of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. The exhibition will also feature two preparatory drawings alongside the resulting paintings. The comparison makes clear that the process of transfer was not a matter of simple copying from paper to panel, and that Holbein’s mastery of the portrait included the ability to flatter his subject through subtle alterations and emphases.

The exhibition will explore Holbein’s arrival in England in 1526, and his first works for Sir Thomas More’s learned humanist circle. It will show his broadening appeal in the 1530s as he became the most sought-after portraitist at the Tudor court. Towards the end of his career, Holbein’s work for Henry VIII included portraits of the King’s wives and children, as well as depictions of Henry himself. Drawings of Princess Mary (later Mary I) and Prince Edward (later Edward VI) will sit alongside Holbein’s similarly dynastic portraits for the Howards, one of the most powerful families in Tudor England.

Holbein’s careful sketches, made in preparation for finished paintings, were taken during personal sittings, when the artist sought to capture the essential features of his subject. Their survival allows us to come face to face with some of the key figures of the Tudor court. While these extraordinary drawings cannot be on permanent display for conservation reasons, the exhibition will give visitors the opportunity to study them up close and see for themselves the exquisite skill that captured the imagination of the Tudor court almost 500 years ago.

Holbein at the Tudor Court
Exploring the art of Hans Holbein, the image-maker of the Tudor court.

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.