Five pairs of nearly identical Tudor portraits have been brought together in a new display at the National Portrait Gallery
. The display explores how and why duplicates and copies of portraits were made in the sixteenth century. Portraits from the Gallerys Collection of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Archbishop William Warham, the merchant Thomas Gresham and Lord Treasurer Thomas Sackville are paired with portraits on loan from other collections. This is the first time that the Gallerys well-known portrait of Anne Boleyn is on display since undergoing recent structural conservation.
Research undertaken as part of the Making Art in Tudor Britain project has used scientific techniques to analyse the portraits in the Double Take display to increase our understanding of the working practices of Tudor artists. The project has used dendochronology, infrared reflectography, x-radiography and photomicroscopy to explore the processes employed in making these portraits, revealing which are contemporary versions and which are later copies.
In the sixteenth century there was increased demand for painted portraits of monarchs and prominent courtiers. These portraits adorned private homes and civic institutions and could be used to situate monarchs within an historical context or to demonstrate allegiance to the Crown or political allies. Artists had little opportunity to paint sitters from life and as a result they made portrait patterns of prominent figures which were circulated between artists workshops. The patterns were either copied from existing paintings or based on existing drawings from the life. Occasionally high demand for portraits of certain figures meant that numerous versions of a portrait were produced in a workshop at any one time, either for patrons or possibly for sale.
The display opens with a drawing of William Warham by Hans Holbein the Younger from the Royal Collection, which was a study for a painting gifted to the Dutch humanist Erasmus. Displayed alongside are two copies of Holbeins final painted portrait of Warham, one from the Gallerys Collection (NPG 2094) and one from the Archbishop of Canterburys collection at Lambeth Palace. Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) has shown that both were produced long after Holbeins death, which demonstrates that there was a market for portraits of early Tudor sitters, or for works after Holbein, in the Elizabethan period. Both portraits, though employing different painting techniques, would once have appeared to be much more similar but the green pigment in the damask cloth in the Lambeth painting has discoloured to brown. Showing all three works together provides insight into the working practices of Tudor artists and demonstrates how a sitters likeness, recorded in a drawing from the life, could be replicated for many years.
The display also includes two portraits of King Henry VIII, one from the Gallerys Collection (NPG 1376) and another lent by the Society of Antiquaries of London, both painted circa 1535-1540. It is possible that both portraits were produced in the same English workshop and similarities in the technique suggest that parts of the paintings may have been by the same person. The two portraits on display of Anne Boleyn are from the Gallerys Collection (NPG668 and NPG 4980(5)); they vary in quality but were both based on a similar face pattern. They were produced over 50 years after Anne Boleyns death and illustrate how the same face patterns could be used to reproduce portraits for many years. Other works on display include two portraits of Thomas Gresham, one lent by The Mercers Company and one from the Gallerys collection (NPG 352), which have been shown, through technical analysis, to have been produced in the same workshop at the same time. Also included are two portraits of the prominent courtier Thomas Sackville: NPG 4024 and a loaned portrait from the Sackville Collection and the National Trust at Knole.