What lies beneath? The mystery of the Henry VII painting...

 The mystery of the Henry VII painting that has been a possible sleeper for centuries.

When a painting comes up that is possibly an overlooked lost master that always gets me excited. This portrait could just be one of those. Is it a work by HANS HOLBEIN THE ELDER? Is it part of the Whitehall Palace Mural of 1536-7? And what is under the black paint that has been laid on later?

16thc / 17thc Portrait Tudor King Henry VII 7th (b1457-d1509) CIRCLE OF HOLBEIN

There are a great deal of mysteries surrounding this painting and most recently why was it catalogued by a major auction house for its sale saying it is unlined when quiet clearly it is. The canvas is one piece, it appears, and even if this was painted in the 17th century the material alone would be a fortune. The thread count of the canvas needs looking into also, but why have none of these anomalies not been considered before?

The crown is a later addition but is a cross between the old medieval crown and the later embellished crown created by Henry VIII. The list of mysteries go on and on but one thing is for sure. The artist was a master. When you look at the face, the hands, the way the paint has been laid on. This is not the work of a second rate cosiest but a master, and that's what makes this journey so intriguing.

Artists always copied very accurately very well known works. But this one is different in a number of ways, the tassel hangs straight downwards vertical from below his hand but in the mural, the tassel has been painted angling towards his open grasping hand.

The ceremonial robe hangs straight from top to bottom with no creases or folds showing along the edges but in the copy of the mural from 1667 and finished in watercolour, the robe is distorted and folded, showing inside lining and outer cloak, as it proceeds towards the floor.

Holbein the Elder made a number of portrait drawings that foreshadowed the later work of his son Holbein the Younger, both artists having very similar styles, so is this a work from the late 15th century?

The painting comes from Italy and we know Holbein's dad was active in Italy and in this portrait Henry certainly looks young. 

First things first though and our main task now is to place this painting into a dateline using the latest technology and firstly that means Non-invasive imaging of subsurface paint layers with optical coherence tomography.

Now if that leaves you confused then lets be simple with this, we need to date the paint and get behind the layers of dirt, varnish and embellishment to have a starting point for this journey and over the next weeks that is our task.

If this turns out to be what we think it could be then not only is this a significant and important work it is also a painting that could be worth half a million pounds.

Curtis Dowling