Paintings of Henry VIII of England

27. June 2019

It is well known that a love affair begins when you meet someone you will fall in love with sooner or later, and you will meet them with love. Partnership exchanges are supposed to support the modern person and increase the probability of this meeting. The path to romance is rather unromatic. Earlier… yes, earlier, one still believed in fate, in Amor’s arrow or even in Saint Valentine, who brought one. There one could still howl longingly at the moon, instead of lonely and from the cold light of the PC shone personality profiles to fill and photos of itself uploaded. There were plucked at little flowers instead of Tinder pictures in one or the other direction wiped.

But we don’t need to cry over the good old days, because as it used to be in the past – it never happened in this form. The romantic love we long for today only exists because it was invented in Romanticism. Before that (and often enough afterwards) it was simply a matter of finding the partner who most suited you socially, financially and denominationally. And not infrequently the bride and/or groom did not even make the decision to marry themselves. There were negotiations and couplings that today our ears are blowing.

Picture – beautiful…

The young woman on the right, for example, was the fourth wife of Henry VIII of England (1491-1547). – Exactly, that was the mean fat man who was married a total of six times and had one or the other wife murdered. Mrs. No. 3, Jane Seymour, had died of childbed fever. While the king himself fell into deep sorrow – he must have really loved her – his advisors were already looking for a new bride. The court painter Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 or 98-1543) was sent to the mainland to portray potential candidates.

Hans Holbein the Younger Christina of DenmarkThe king liked the portrait of Christina of Denmark (1521-1590, left) best, and he would have liked to have made the 16-year-old his wife no. 4. But her uncle, Charles V, did not want to make fun of the French, who were in the permanent clinch with the English, and did not release his niece. So Heinrich decided on Anna von Kleve (1515-1557, right), whose picture also appealed to him. Zack, the marriage contract was signed without having met the bride even once before.

…reality – less

When he met her for the first time, he was deeply disappointed: He found Anna boring and dull – and unattractive. Supposedly, Holbein had “photo-hopped” the good woman so much that there was a huge difference between painted and real faces. The king is said to have been so angry that the painter was never allowed to portray people from the English royal house again. (What impression the king made on Anna is not known by the way, but when I look at the guy – I wouldn’t have jumped in her place with enthusiasm in the triangle…) But contract was contract, so it was married, even if Heinrich tried his best to prevent this. After all, he was able to convince his new wife (even without the threat of being beheaded) to divorce again as soon as possible, so that the marriage was already divorced after half a year.

Same same, but different

Holbein went down in art history primarily because of his portraits as an important painter, because he had the talent to reproduce both the exterior and the character of the person to be painted as precisely and subtly as possible (which suggests that Anna in reality did not look so different than in the picture and that the chemistry between her and the king was simply not right).

Let’s take another close look at the two ladies. If we look at their posture and face alone, there is generally no big difference: Anna is completely turned towards us, Christina almost completely. Both stand upright, but motionless, holding their hands elegantly in front of their upper bodies. With both the facial expressions are also very limited. One might think that everything that points to their respective personality is buried under the voluminous clothing.

And yet: despite the emotional reduction and the similarities, it becomes clear that we are dealing with two very different personalities.

How does Holbein achieve this?

In Anna’s case, the first thing that stands out in comparison is that she is “only” depicted as a bust. She stands in front of a dark, undefined font (background), her clothes are trimmed by the edges of the picture. With the exception of her hands, her portrait, including her face, is as good as symmetrical.