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Identity of Artist and Sitter

It is difficult to identify the nationality of the artist who painted the Man in Red. In this period artists travelled throughout Europe to work in different centres, the most famous example being Hans Holbein the Younger, who moved from Basel to London. One artist proposed for the Man in Red but now discounted, was Gerlach Flicke (active 1545 – 58). He originated in northwest Germany, was probably trained close to or in the neighbouring Netherlands and was active in London. Many Netherlandish artists were also working in England, for example William Scrots (active 1537 – 53), who worked in England from 1545. This work has previously been attributed to him, but his portraits are very different stylistically and technically.

No surviving portrait of this date painted in the Holy Roman Empire, France or the Netherlands closely resembles the Man in Red in terms of format, style and technique. Taking into account all the evidence together with the assessment of the costume it seems that the sitter is more likely to be English and the portrait made in England. Analysis of comparable portraits has ruled out a French artist, but it is possible that the artist was German or Netherlandish working in England.

Identifying sitters in portraits painted more than 400 years ago is difficult because of the scarcity of records and comparable likenesses. Various candidates have been proposed for the Man in Red’s identity, although there is currently no conclusive answer. Facially he appears to be an adolescent, possibly in his late teens, with a beard just starting to grow. Evidence from the technical analysis and costume suggests that the painting was produced between c.1530 and c.1550. Assuming the sitter is aged between fifteen and twenty this would put his date of birth between c.1510 and c.1535.

Below are some of the English sitters who have been proposed in inventories and publications since the seventeenth century.

Henry VIII (1491-1547)

A painting described in 1660 as ‘One whole figure of Henry the Eight when he was young of the painting of Holben’ (believed to be Portrait of a Man in Red) was included in a list of pictures for purchase by Charles II from William Frizell.

The young age of the sitter when combined with the date of the clothing rules out this identification.

Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1516-47)

In the 1866 inventory compiled by Richard Redgrave, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, the painting was described as the Earl of Surrey. A courtier and poet responsible for introducing the sonnet to England, Surrey was a childhood friend of Henry VIII’s son, the Duke of Richmond, but was later executed on charges of treason.

It is not possible to be sure about this identification because the Man in Red is very different from other surviving painted portraits of Henry Howard.

Lucas Horenbout, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, 1533-4, RCIN 420019©

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset (1519-36)

Henry VIII’s illegitimate son with Elizabeth Blount was raised to the peerage in 1525 and was openly acknowledged by the king. Upon his death in 1536 at the age of seventeen, an inventory of the duke’s clothes included a gown, doublet and hose in crimson satin, and also a doublet and hose in red taffeta.

The miniature here portrays him with similar blue/grey eyes to the Man in Red. The identification remains conjectural because there are no comparable likenesses of the sitter apart from this miniature.

Are you convinced that the Man in Red is one of these figures?

Other suggestions about the sitter include:
- a visiting foreign ambassador at the Tudor court
- the second son of an important nobleman

Who is the Man in Red?
Why was this picture commissioned?

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