Edward VI as a Child (probably 1538)

Holbein, Hans the Younger (c.1497-1543)

Edward VI as a Child
probably 1538
Oil on panel, 56.8 x 44 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Inscription: PARVVLE PATRISSA, PATRIÆ VIRTVTIS ET HÆRES / ESTO, NIHIL MAIVS MAXIMVS ORBIS HABET. / GNATVM VIX POSSVNT COELVM ET NATVRA DEDISSE, / HVIVS QVEM PATRIS, VICTVS HONORET HONOS. / ÆQVATO TANTVM, TANTI TV FACTA PARENTIS, / VOTA HOMINVM, VIX QVO PROGREDIANTVR, HABENT / VINCITO, VICISTI. QVOT REGES PRISCVS ADORAT / ORBIS, NEC TE QVI VINCERE POSSIT, ERIT. Ricard: Morysini. Car: (Little one, emulate thy father and be the heir of his virtue; the world contains nothing greater. Heaven and earth could scarcely produce a son whose glory would surpass that of such a father. Do thou but equal the deeds of thy parent and men can ask no more. Shouldst thou surpass him, thou hast outstript all kings the world has revered in ages past.)

After the Reformation had brought social and political upheaval to Germany, creating an unfavorable climate for artists, Holbein moved to England in 1526. He first painted for Sir Thomas More‘s circle of high servants of the crown and then became painter to the King himself, Henry VIII. As court painter, Holbein produced portraits, festival sets and other decorations intended to exalt the King and the Tudor dynasty, and also designs for jewelry and metalwork. In his portraits Holbein endowed his sitters with a powerful physical presence which was increasingly held in check by the psychological reserve and elegance of surface appropriate to a court setting. This portrait of Henry VIII‘s only legitimate son and much desired male heir exemplifies these qualities. Edward was born on 12 October 1537 to Henry‘s third wife, Jane Seymour, and this portrait appears to be the one given to the King on the New Year of 1539. The form of the portrait and the long Latin verse provided by the poet Richard Morison flatter the royal father and emphasize the succession. Holbein depicted the baby prince as erect and self-possessed, one hand holding a scepter and the other open in a gesture of blessing. His frontal pose before a parapet is a type reserved for royalty or for images of holy figures. (NGA)

See also:

• Edward VI, King of England and Ireland (1537-1553)