A series of portraits of the Tudor court by Hans Holbein the Younger that are rarely seen in public will go on display later this year.

The drawings, which are rarely seen in order to preserve them, were created during personal sittings with the subject in preparation for portraits that Holbein was to go on to paint later on, sometimes very much later on. Quite how they ended up in the Royal Collection isn’t clear, but they were probably acquired by Henry VIII at the artist’s death.

These drawings cannot be on permanent display for conservation reasons, but they will be on display for a few months later this year so that people can study them up close and see for themselves the skill that captured the imagination of the Tudor court almost 500 years ago.

Sir Henry Guildford preparatory sketch drawn in 1527 (c) The Royal Collection

Sir Henry Guildford final portrait, circa 1536–9 (c) The Royal Collection

The exhibition, Holbein at the Tudor Court will be at the Queen’s Gallery, next to Buckingham Palace, and will also show off a range of other Holbein portraits owned by the Royal Collection. Together, they will form the largest group of Holbein’s works from the Royal Collection to be exhibited in over 30 years.

The exhibition will tell the story of Holbein’s career in England, from itinerant artist to king’s painter, showing how the vibrant international court culture he found on his arrival in London formed a fertile ground for his future success.

The exhibition will also examine Holbein’s artistic techniques, his career in England and the lives of the men and women who commissioned his portraits, from members of the Tudor royal family to writers, churchmen and senior figures at court.

The exhibition will also feature two preparatory drawings alongside the resulting paintings. The comparison makes clear that the process of transfer was not a matter of simple copying from paper to panel, and that Holbein’s mastery of the portrait included the ability to flatter his subject through subtle alterations and emphases.

Works on display will include drawings, paintings, miniatures and book illustrations by the artist and will tell the stories of his sitters through the portraits Holbein produced.

The exhibition opens in November at the Queen’s Gallery, and tickets are on sale now from here.

Adults: £19 | Young Person (18-24) £12 | Child (5-17)/Disabled £9.50 | Under 5: Free

A money saving tip: If you visit their current exhibition, Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians before it closes in October, you can upgrade your ticket to an annual pass — so you won’t have to pay again to visit the Holbein exhibition in November.

You might even get into the spring 2024 exhibition as well — so three for the price of one.


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