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The Art of Monarchy

A collaboration with BBC Radio 4 to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

George Vertue (1684-1756)

The Whitehall Mural 1737

RCIN 452658

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This is a watercolour version of a mural commissioned by Henry VIII for his palace at Whitehall. The mural aimed to show Henry VIII’s right to hold the throne by emphasising his line of descent. Henry’s father, Henry VII, had won the throne in battle in 1485, so Henry was only the second king of the new Tudor dynasty and his position was far from secure. In this painting, Holbein set out the King’s claim to the throne. Henry VIII is shown at the far left of the picture, standing confidently with his hand on his hip and facing the viewer. Behind him stands his father, Henry VII, from whom he inherited the crown. To the right can be seen Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York, emphasising Henry VIII’s descent from the rival Yorkist line and presenting him as the uniter of the two dynasties. To the right foreground can be seen Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, who was probably, when the painting was made, pregnant with Henry’s son Edward VI. At the centre of the picture is not another figure, but a monument, inscribed with text. This proclaims Henry VII to have been a great king, but Henry VIII to be greater still.

The original wall painting was commissioned by Henry VIII from his court artist Hans Holbein the Younger in 1537. It was painted in his palace of Whitehall in central London. The Holbein painting was destroyed by a fire in Whitehall in 1698 but its appearance is recorded in an oil painting made by Remigius van Leemput for Charles II (also in the Royal Collection), and in this early eighteenth-century watercolour, a copy after van Leemput’s piece. One of Holbein’s cartoons for the mural, for the figure of Henry VIII, is in the National Portrait Gallery.

George Vertue, who made this watercolour exactly two hundred years after the mural was painted by Holbein, was an artist and an antiquary, and produced a number of watercolours after paintings in the Royal Collection. He would later work for Frederick Prince of Wales, for whom he created a catalogue of the Royal Collection. Although Vertue’s copy is an impressively accurate rendering of van Leemput’s painting, in line with eighteenth-century fashion, and amusingly to modern viewers, he has omitted Henry VIII’s prominent codpiece.