About 16th Century portraiture



Portraits in the 16th century, more than ever before, played an important role in sealing the arrival of a new dynasty, and emphasising marital and political alliances. So deeply rooted was the respect for hereditary principle that portraiture was used as a tool to elevate the sitter into their dynastic setting. 


 


English portrait painting was at the time deeply influenced by key continental artists, including Augsburg-born Holbein, whose paintings came to define the early Tudor period in England. Holbein came to England in 1526, and although he returned to Basel for a time, he was soon appointed as King's Painter to Henry VIII. His portraits today still possess a feeling of direct individuality to contemporary viewers, and the power to astonish. Artists working in his orbit were William Scrots, whose delicate portraits of Edward VI record a precarious moment in the Tudor lineage, and Hans Eworth, who defined a more sober likeness in Mary I. 


 


During the reign of Elizabeth I, portraiture in England became arguably more stylised, exaggerated and iconographic, a reflection of the Queen's desire to control her own courtly image. This facilitated a blossoming of a particularly English aesthetic that obsessively reflected on surface, and the display of wealth through costume. It reached a brilliant climax during the second decade of the reign of James I, with artists such as William Larkin and Paul van Somer, before a resurgence of European naturalism.