The artists of the Tudor court are the painters and limners engaged by the monarchs of England's Tudor dynasty and their courtiers between 1485 and 1603, from the reign of Henry VII to the death of Elizabeth I.
Typically managing a group of assistants and apprentices in a workshop or studio, many of these artists produced works across several disciplines, including portrait miniatures, large-scale panel portraits on wood, illuminated manuscripts, heraldric emblems, and elaborate decorative schemes for masques, tournaments, and other events.
The Tudor period was one of unusual isolation from European trends for England. At the start the Wars of the Roses had greatly disrupted artistic activity, which apart from architecture had reached a very low ebb by 1485. The Yorkist dynasty overthrown by the Tudors had been very close to their Burgundian allies, and English diplomats had their portraits painted by the finest Early Netherlandish painters – Edward Grimston by Petrus Christus and Sir John Donne by Hans Memling (both National Gallery, London). However these were both painted abroad. In the Tudor period foreign artists were recruited and often welcomed lavishly by the English court, as they were in other artistically marginal parts of Europe like Spain or Naples. The Netherlandish painters remained predominant, though French influence was also important on both Lucas Horenbout and Nicholas Hilliard, respectively the founder and the greatest exponent of the distinctively English tradition of the portrait miniature.
With the virtual extinction of religious painting at the Reformation, and little interest in classical mythology until the very end of the period, the portrait was the most important form of painting for all the artists of the Tudor court, and the only one to have survived in any numbers. How many of these have also been lost can be seen from Holbein's book (nearly all pages in the Royal Collection) containing preparatory drawings for portraits – of eighty-five drawings, only a handful have surviving Holbein paintings, though often copies have survived.Portraiture ranged from the informal miniature, almost invariably painted from life in the course of a few days and intended for private contemplation, to the later large-scale portraits of Elizabeth I such as the Rainbow Portrait, filled with symbolic iconography in dress, jewels, background, and inscription.
Much energy was also expended on decorative painting of fixtures and fittings, often of a very temporary nature. In theory the "Serjeant Painters" of the King, a lower rank of painter, did most of this, probably to the designs of the more elevated "King's Painters" (or Queen's), but it is clear that they too spent time on this, as did court artists all over Europe (see Royal Entry). There was also the Master of the Revels, whose Office was responsible for festivals and tournaments, and no doubt called upon the artists and Serjeant Painters for assistance.
Jewellery and metalwork were regarded as extremely important, and far more was spent on them than on painting. Holbein produced many spectacular designs for now-vanished table ornaments in precious metals, and Hilliard was also a practising goldsmith. The main artistic interests of Henry VIII were music, building palaces and tapestry, of which he had over 2,000 pieces, costing far more than he ever spent on painters. The Flemish set with the Story of Abraham still at Hampton Court Palace is one grand set from late in his reign.
Elizabeth spent far less, hardly building anything herself, but took a personal interest in painting, keeping her own collection of miniatures locked away, wrapped in paper on which she wrote the names of the sitter. She is reputed to have had paintings of her burnt that did not match the iconic image she wished to be shown.
The most progressive and spectacular palace of the Tudor period, Nonsuch Palace, begun by Henry VIII in 1538 a little way south of London, was covered inside and out with prodigious quantities of figurative sculpted stucco reliefs – the whole scheme covered over 2,000 square metres (21,000 sq ft).There was also probably much decorative painting. As for the similar work at the Château de Fontainebleau, which Nonsuch was certainly intended to compete with, and outshine, Italians were brought in to provide authentic Mannerist work, however much the general plan remains English. The scattered fragments and images that have survived suggest that the awestruck accounts of visitors were not exaggerated.
Many of the artists active at the Tudor court were connected by ties of family, marriage, and training. Lucas Horenbout (often called Hornebolt in England), who began painting and illuminating for Henry VIII in the mid-1520s, was accompanied in his workshop by his sister Susannah, who was also an illuminator. It is generally acceptedthat Lucas Horenbout taught Hans Holbein the Younger the techniques of painting miniatures on vellum when Holbein was engaged by Henry VIII in the early 1530s.
Lucas and Susanna Horenbout's father, Gerard Horenbout - possibly he was the Master of James IV of Scotland - was an active member of the Ghent-Bruges school of manuscript illustrators and also was employed briefly at the Tudor court.In Bruges, Gerard was associated with Sanders Bening or Benninck and his son Simon, with whom he worked on the illustrations for the Grimani Breviary. Simon Bening's eldest daughter Levina Teerlinc was also trained as an illuminator. She entered the service of Henry VIII at the close of 1546 following the deaths of Holbein (1543) and Lucas Horenbout (1544), and would remain as court painter to Henry's son Edward VI and as painter and lady-in-waiting to both his daughters, Mary I and Elizabeth. Levina Teerlinc, in turn, taught the art of limning to Nicholas Hilliard, an apprentice goldsmith who would marry the daughter of Queen Elizabeth's jeweller and rise to become the supreme miniaturist of the age. John Bettes the Elder apprenticed his son, John the Younger to Hilliard. Hilliard's most famous student, Isaac Oliver, later limner to Anne of Denmark and Henry, Prince of Wales, was married to the niece of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Gheeraerts was also the brother-in-law of Lucas de Heere's apprentice John de Critz the Elder, who took the dynasty into the Stuart period, and was succeeded as Serjeant-Painter by his son. De Heere was also a religious refugee from Flanders; although the upheavals of the Protestant Reformation acted to reduce artistic contacts, especially with Italy, England could also benefit from them.
The holders of the office were:
Many surviving images have been badly worn over the years, or incompetently "restored". Inscriptions are often later than the paintings themselves, and may reflect wishful thinking; many anonymous Tudor ladies were identified as "Mary I", or, especially, one or other of Henry VIII's queens, by the owners of pictures. Anne Boleyn in particular has been said to be the subject of dozens of pictures; even now there is no certain image of her done from life, and the most plausible,is a later copy and among the least informative. The only probable portrait of Catherine Howard, a miniature by Holbein in the Royal Collection, is only identified by circumstantial evidence (see Gallery).
A well-known painting (left) was identified by George Vertue in 1727 as Lady Frances Brandon and her second husband Adrian Stokes, an attribution that stood unquestioned until the sitters were properly identified as Mary Nevill, Baroness Dacre and her son Gregory Fiennes, 10th Baron Dacre and the artist as Hans Eworth in 1986.
Attribution to artists is even more challenging; not all artists signed their work, and those who did may not have done so consistently. Many pictures have been cut down, extended, or otherwise altered in ways that damage or destroy inscriptions. Artists' workshops often churned out copies of the master's work to meet the demand for portraits, as symbols of devotion to the Crown or simply to populate the fashionable "long galleries" lined with portraits.
Today, attributions are made on the basis of style, sitter, accepted date, and related documentation such as receipts or bills for payment and inventories of collections or estates. It is now generally accepted that the artist known as "The Monogrammist HE" is Hans Eworth,but other identifications remain elusive. Some of the most well-known images of the period, such as the portrait of Elizabeth I when a Princess, age 13, have been attributed to many artists over the years, but remain cautiously labelled "?Flemish School" in recent catalogues. Much scholarly debate also circles around identification of possible portraits of Lady Jane Grey.
The royal accounts for the period survive, but are not always easy to interpret. Payments often covered expensive materials, and in many cases the wages of assistants had to be paid out of them. Some regular annuities, usually supplemented by payments for specific works, are given below. But recipients were expected to give works to the monarch, at New Year or on their birthday.
The sums spent on metalwork, building palaces, and by Henry on tapestries, dwarfed these figures.
Hans Holbein the Younger was a German painter and printmaker who worked in a Northern Renaissance style, and is considered one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century. He also produced religious art, satire, and Reformation propaganda, and he made a significant contribution to the history of book design. He is called "the Younger" to distinguish him from his father Hans Holbein the Elder, an accomplished painter of the Late Gothic school.
Hans Eworth was a Flemish painter active in England in the mid-16th century. Along with other exiled Flemings, he made a career in Tudor London, painting allegorical images as well as portraits of the gentry and nobility. About 40 paintings are now attributed to Eworth, among them portraits of Mary I and Elizabeth I. Eworth also executed decorative commissions for Elizabeth's Office of the Revels in the early 1570s.
Nicholas Hilliard was an English goldsmith and limner best known for his portrait miniatures of members of the courts of Elizabeth I and James I of England. He mostly painted small oval miniatures, but also some larger cabinet miniatures, up to about ten inches tall, and at least two famous half-length panel portraits of Elizabeth. He enjoyed continuing success as an artist, and continuing financial troubles, for forty-five years. His paintings still exemplify the visual image of Elizabethan England, very different from that of most of Europe in the late sixteenth century. Technically he was very conservative by European standards, but his paintings are superbly executed and have a freshness and charm that has ensured his continuing reputation as "the central artistic figure of the Elizabethan age, the only English painter whose work reflects, in its delicate microcosm, the world of Shakespeare's earlier plays."
Levina Teerlinc was a Flemish Renaissance miniaturist who served as a painter to the English court of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. She was the most important miniaturist at the English court between Hans Holbein the Younger and Nicholas Hilliard. Her father, Simon Bening was a renowned book illuminator and miniature painter of the Ghent-Bruges school and probably trained her as a manuscript painter. She may have worked in her father's workshop before her marriage.
William Larkin was an English painter active from 1609 until his death in 1619, known for his iconic portraits of members of the court of James I of England which capture in brilliant detail the opulent layering of textiles, embroidery, lace, and jewellery characteristic of fashion in the Jacobean era, as well as representing numerous fine examples of oriental carpets in Renaissance painting.
Marcus Gheeraerts was a Flemish artist working at the Tudor court, described as "the most important artist of quality to work in England in large-scale between Eworth and van Dyck" He was brought to England as a child by his father Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder, also a painter. He became a fashionable portraitist in the last decade of the reign of Elizabeth I under the patronage of her champion and pageant-master Sir Henry Lee. He introduced a new aesthetic in English court painting that captured the essence of a sitter through close observation. He became a favorite portraitist of James I's queen Anne of Denmark, but fell out of fashion in the late 1610s.
The Serjeant Painter was an honourable and lucrative position as court painter with the English monarch. It carried with it the prerogative of painting and gilding all of the King's residences, coaches, banners, etc. and it grossed over £1,000 in a good year by the 18th century. The work itself involved painting the palaces, coaches, royal barges, and all sorts of decorations for festivities, which often had to be designed as well. The actual involvement of the serjeant painters in this gradually declined. The post itself fell out of use in the 18th century, after a period when "fine art" painters were appointed, and expected to supervise rather than execute decorative painting, for a good salary.
Lucas Horenbout, often called Hornebolte in England (c.1490/1495–1544), was a Flemish artist who moved to England in the mid-1520s and worked there as "King's Painter" and court miniaturist to King Henry VIII from 1525 until his death. He was trained in the final phase of Netherlandish illuminated manuscript painting, in which his father Gerard was an important figure, and was the founding painter of the long and distinct English tradition of portrait miniature painting. He has been suggested as the Master of the Cast Shadow Workshop, who produced royal portraits on panel in the 1520s or 1530s.
Rowland Lockey was an English painter and goldsmith. The son of Leonard Lockey, a crossbow maker of the parish of St Bride's, Fleet Street, London, Lockey was apprenticed to Queen Elizabeth's miniaturist and goldsmith Nicholas Hilliard for eight years beginning Michaelmas 1581 and was made a freeman or master of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths by 1600.
George Gower (c.1540–1596) was an English portrait painter who became Serjeant Painter to Queen Elizabeth I in 1581.
The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I of England is the name of any of three surviving versions of an allegorical panel painting depicting the Tudor queen surrounded by symbols of royal majesty against a backdrop representing the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
WilliamScrots was a painter of the Tudor court and an exponent of the Mannerist style of painting in the Netherlands.
Robert Peake the Elder was an English painter active in the later part of Elizabeth I's reign and for most of the reign of James I. In 1604, he was appointed picture maker to the heir to the throne, Prince Henry; and in 1607, serjeant-painter to King James I – a post he shared with John De Critz. Peake is often called "the elder", to distinguish him from his son, the painter and print seller William Peake and from his grandson, Sir Robert Peake, who followed his father into the family print-selling business.
Events from the year 1526 in art.
The portraiture of Elizabeth I illustrates the evolution of English royal portraits in the Early Modern period from the representations of simple likenesses to the later complex imagery used to convey the power and aspirations of the state, as well as of the monarch at its head.
Catherine Howard was Queen of England from 1540 until 1541 as the fifth wife of Henry VIII. She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper, cousin to Anne Boleyn, and niece to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Howard was a prominent politician at Henry's court, and he secured her a place in the household of Henry's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, where she caught the King's interest. She married him on 28 July 1540 at Oatlands Palace in Surrey, just 19 days after the annulment of his marriage to Anne. He was 49, and she was still a teenager, at about 17 years old.
John Bettes the Elder was an English artist whose few known paintings date from between about 1543 and 1550. His most famous work is his Portrait of a Man in a Black Cap. His son John Bettes the Younger, with whom he is sometimes confused, was a pupil of Nicholas Hilliard who painted portraits during the reign of Elizabeth I and James I.
Susanna(h) Hornebolt or Horenbout (1503–c.1554) was the first known female artist in England and the Tudor dynasty. The daughter of Flemish artist Gerard Hornebolt and sister of Lucas Horenbout, Susannah learned to paint with her father. She gained recognition in Europe in 1521 when Albrecht Dürer bought her illumination, The Savior.
Margaret Holsewyther was an English miniaturist employed by Tudor monarchs. Her husbands were paid for her work making the provenance of her work difficult to ascertain. She was working over the reigns of four monarchs and three husbands.