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“Portrait of Thomas Cromwell” by Hans Holbein the Younger

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“Portrait of Thomas Cromwell” by Hans Holbein the Younger

“Portrait of Thomas Cromwell” by Hans Holbein the Younger depicts Cromwell when he was around 48 years old. It is one of two portraits Holbein painted of Cromwell. The original panel was lost. However, three versions of this painting survive. Thomas Cromwell (1485 – 1540) was a lawyer and statesman who became a confidant of Henry VIII, assuming the roles of vice-regent, Lord Chancellor, lord high chamberlain, among others. A shrewd politician, he was aware of the effect of propaganda and commissioned Holbein to produce images positioning him as a reformist and royalist.

Cromwell engineered the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and became a significant force in the Tudor court until he fell from power because he had arranged the king’s marriage to the German princess, Anne of Cleves. Henry found his new bride unattractive, and it turned into a disaster for Cromwell. The marriage was unpopular, and this allowed his many enemies the chance to bring charges of treason, forcing his eventual arrest and executed for treason and heresy on Tower Hill in 1540.

This turn of events left Holbein in an uncertain place. Holbein had deftly survived the downfall of his first two high patrons, Thomas More and Anne Boleyn, but Cromwell’s execution damaged his career. Although he managed to keep his position as King’s painter, his career never recovered. The site of Holbein’s grave is unknown and may never have been marked.

Thomas Cromwell

Cromwell was one of the most influential advocates of the English Reformation. He engineered an annulment of King Henry’s marriage to Queen Catherine so the King could lawfully marry Anne Boleyn. The Pope had refused to approve Henry’s marriage annulment, so the English Parliament granted the King the position of Supreme Head of the Church of England, allowing him to annul his marriage. Cromwell subsequently charted a reformist course for the Church of England.

During his rise to power, Cromwell made many enemies, who plotted his fall from power, after Cronwell had arranged the king’s unhappy marriage to German princess Anne of Cleves. Henry found his new bride unattractive, and the King ended his marriage with an annulment within six months. The Cronwell’s endorsement of Anne of Cleves had turned into a disaster for Cromwell who was later executed for treason and heresy on Tower Hill in 1540.

Exploring Hans Holbein

Reflections

  • Does a mercenary approach to power, always bring enemies, who plot revenge?

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell

  • Title:              Portrait of Thomas Cromwell
  • Artist:            Hans Holbein the Younger
  • Created:        1533
  • Medium:       Oil on oak panel
  • Dimensions:  78.4 × 64.5 cm (30.9 × 25.4 in)
  • Museum:       Frick Collection, New York

Hans Holbein the Younger

  • Name:         Hans Holbein the Younger
  • Born:            c. 1497 – Augsburg, Free imperial city, Holy Roman Empire
  • Died:            1543 (aged 45) – London, England
  • Nationality:  German Swiss
  • Movement:  Northern Renaissance
  • Notable work:

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    “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
    – Leonardo da Vinci

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    Photo Credit 1) Hans Holbein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons