Newly discovered portrait of Henry VIII ‘clean-shaven and slim’

Originally posted on March 26, 2023.

A portrait of Henry VIII by Netherlandish artist Meynnart Wewyck (active in England c. 1502-1525) has recently been discovered to contain a ‘hidden gem’ unveiled by researchers at the National Portrait Gallery and Hamilton Kerr Institute. Scientific analysis of this incredible vignette reveal that the portrait was concealing an earlier likeness of the Tudor King, when he was ‘clean-shaven and slimmer,’ repainted to keep up with Henry’s rapid weight gain and changing sartorial tastes.

Researchers were able to recognise the youthful image of King Henry VIII thanks to his long, distinctive nose and lavish attire.

King Henry VIII’s appearance changed rapidly throughout the 1530s

“This is an exciting discovery. Two images for the price of one,” says art expert Christoper Moran, credited with commissioning scans of the portrait as part of a wider study on early Tudor and Henrician portraiture. 

In the original image completed by Wewyck sometime in 1519, Henry was at the height of his power and an incredible athlete, only 28 years-old. However, a jousting injury in 1536 greatly reduced Henry’s mobility and resulted in drastic weight gain for the Tudor sovereign.

It is thought that a court artist updated the image to reflect the King’s changing appearance. The updated portrait also included a beard, which Henry began to sport in preparation of the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520 and maintained for the remainder of his life.

Portrait of Henry VIII of England also attributed to Meynnart Wewyck, ca. 1509

Simon Thurley, speaking to the Telegraph, says: “What is fascinating is that, as the king aged – and, more importantly, as he adopted new fashions – the person who owned this portrait started getting very worried that what he had on his wall didn’t look anything like the king.” 

Be sure to subscribe to Tudor Extra for breaking news on this fascinating discovery. 

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