Portrait of Anne Boleyn (formerly thought to be)
Hans Holbein the Younger
School/style: Swiss; German; British
Paper | 321 mm x 235 mm
The British Museum | 1975,0621.22
Portrait of a lady, formerly thought to be Anne Boleyn, head and shoulders of a woman turned to right and looking to right, wearing a head-dress, necklace and bodice with a square neckline. Black chalk, partly stumped, and red chalk, with brush drawing in black ink, and with yellow wash; on pale pink prepared paper; corners cut diagonally.
Inscriptions Inscription Content: Inscribed in a seventeenth-century hand in brown ink, to the left of the sitter, “Anna Bullen de collata / Fuit Londini 19 May 1536”.
Curator's comments Although imperfectly preserved, this drawing is of high quality and equal to the best of the portrait drawings by Holbein in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle. It was undoubtedly executed during the artist's second stay in England, when he had abandoned the practice of drawing portraits in coloured chalks on unprimed paper on a relatively large scale in favour of working on paper prepared with a flesh colour, on a smaller scale.
The identification of the sitter as queen Anne Boleyn is however, not correct. It can be traced no earlier than 1649, the date of the etching made by Wenceslaus Hollar after the present sheet, when it was in the collection of the Earl of Arundel (New Hollstein 978; see BM O,7.42 ). The print is inscribed "ANNA BVLLEN REGINA ANGLIÆ / HENRICI VIIui Vxor 2da Elizabeth Regine / Mater, fuit decollata, Londini 19 May Ao 1536", but it is not clear whether the inscription was taken from this drawing or vice versa. Many subsequent painted and engraved representations of Anne Boleyn were based on Hollar's print. Contemporary portraits of the queen are scarce. Rowlands and Starkey have presented a strong argument to support the identification of Holbein's drawing of c.1532-6 inscribed in a later hand 'Anna Bollein Queen' in the Royal Collection, although this has not been universally accepted (see 'Henry VIII: Man and Monarch' exhibition catalogue edited by S.Doran, London, British Library, 2009, no.3). Her coronation medal of 1533 has survived in a single lead impression, which is very worn (British Museum, Department of Coins and Medals, inv. no. M 9010). Of the mid-sixteenth century representations of her, the most reliable must be the tiny miniature set into a ring of about 1575 which belonged to her daughter, queen Elizabeth I (The Chequers Trust; see 'Elizabeth' exhibition catalogue edited by Susan Doran, London, The National Maritime Museum, 2003, no.7). This likeness comes from the same source as the painting in the National Portrait Gallery (inv. no. 668) and is seen in later copies such as the one in Ripon Cathedral (see 'Henry VIII: Man and Monarch' exhibition catalogue edited by S.Doran, London, British Library, 2009, no.105).
There is a copy of the present drawing in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, drawn in black lead on vellum. This was formerly ascribed to George Vertue, but has been attributed by Brown to Jonathan Richardson, senior (1665-1745), a former owner of the present drawing. It is accompanied by a curious account written by the younger Richardson of how his father lent the original, which was never returned, to the then Earl of Bradford.
Acquisition notes Probably from the 'Great Booke' (first recorded in the 1590 inventory of Lord Lumley), which contained portrait drawings by Holbein, chiefly of members of Henry VIII's court, the majority of which are now in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle; from which it was removed towards the end of the seventeenth century. Portrait of a lady, formerly thought to be Anne Boleyn – The British Museum