Henry VII (1457 - 1509)

English School

Henry VII (1457 - 1509)

Painted circa 1590

Oil on panel: 23 1/16 x 14 7/8 inches, 57.7 x 37.2 cm


  • Alfred Morrison, M.P. (1821 - 1897), Fonthill House, Tisbury, Wiltshire and thence by descent to the present owner.

Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, took over the English Crown after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, despite a relatively weak claim to the throne through his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. His marriage in 1486 to Elizabeth of York, daughter and heir of Edward IV, unified the Houses of York and Lancaster and is visually represented in the red and white petals of the Tudor rose.

Our portrait type is derived from a mural in the Privy Chamber at Whitehall Palace by Hans Holbein (1460? - 1534), which was finished in 1537, but later destroyed by the fire of 1698. Holbein’s original is known through two seventeenth century copies by Remigius van Leemput (Royal Collection and Petworth House) as well as Holbein’s preparatory cartoon. Henry VII is depicted standing behind his son, leaning on a plinth which is inscribed with the relative achievements of the first two Tudor kings, thus emphasising their dynastic linkage and validating their claim to the throne.

Similarly to the original mural, in our portrait Henry is shown wearing a gold gown with vertical slits in the sleeves, which is trimmed with ermine and fastened at the front with a large gold clasp set with table cut diamonds, rubies and pearls. The gown has a dark fur lining turned back to form the revers and is worn over a bright red doublet. Our sitter wears a blocked felt cap trimmed with a ruby set brooch encircled by more diamonds.

This image is a typical ‘corridor portrait’ - a posthumous image of a monarch usually created as part of a set designed to furnish the long gallery of a late Elizabethan or seventeenth century country house. Such portraits emphasised the occupant’s dynastic lineage with important historical figures, offering a useful lesson in British history as well as tasteful interior decoration. Corridor portraits were made to a standard size and format, depicting the sitter at head and shoulder length against a dark background. Some sets of portraits stretched as far back as William the Conqueror, although images of the Norman and earlier Plantagenet kings were inevitably fictitious. Similar sets can be seen in the collections at Boughton (Duke of Buccleuch), Longleat (Marquess of Bath), Helmingham Hall (Lord Tollemache) and Ingatestone (Lord Petre).