Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Give Yourself Body and Heart to Me

Henry VIII and his wives



If you would be a true loyal mistress and friend and give yourself body and heart to me, who will be, and has been, your most loyal servant (if your hardness does not forbid it), I promise you not only that the name will be yours by right, but also that I will take you for my only mistress, casting all others out of my thoughts and affections, and serving only you.

King Henry VIII of England, in a letter to Anne Boleyn, c. 1527/28


Fate and fortune: Henry VIII's six wives

Catherine of Aragon (unknown artis), Anne Boleyn (unknown artist) and Jane Seymour (Hans Holbein the Younger)

Anne of Cleves (Hans Holbein the Younger), Catherine Howard (Hans Holbein the Younger) and Catherne Parr (unknown artis)


Posterity has not thought highly of him.

Swiss historian Jacob Burkhardt called him a "clown and devil alike". Charles Dickens found him an unbearably bloodthirsty and swaggering bully, a fat, ruthless blot on the map of British history. King Henry VIII of England still epitomizes cruelty, gluttony and lust. During the thirty-seven years of his reign, some 70,000 people were sentenced to death and executed. Even his most distinguished English contemporary, the great Humanist and writer Sir Thomas More, who was his Lord Chancellor, was charged with high treason, dying a martyr under the executioner's axe.

The king's great girth is often attested to by historians. As a young man, Henry was good-looking and athletically built, to a Venetian observer "... the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on. He is much handsomer than any sovereign in Christendom". By the end of his life, Henry was so corpulent he could hardly walk. The portrait of 1539/40 by the Court Painter to the English Court, Hans Holbein the Younger, a native of Augsburg, shows that the king was already quite portly. Only a few years after it was painted, it took four gentlemen of the bedchamber and a block and tackle to hoist Henry VIII into bed. Amorous escapades were now out of the question, though he probably had had more than enough of those anyway. Married six times, he became more notorious for his marriages than for any other reason. Not that Henry VIII, in his youth an excellent dancer and a witty raconteur, was the only Casanova in history to grace, or disgrace, a throne. History has known far worse characters.

Three of Henry's marriages ended harmlessly, or at least conventionally. His third wife died in childbirth; his fourth marriage ended in divorce and his sixth wife survived him.

What makes Henry VIII such a fascinating villain is the brutal way he rid himself of his other three wives. Because the Pope refused to annul his first marriage, Henry broke with the Church of Rome although he was a practising Catholic. He founded the Anglican Church, made himself sovereign head of it and declared his marriage vows null and void, which enabled him to marry Anne Boleyn without having to worry about Papal interference. Anne Boleyn, like his fifth wife, was executed in the Tower of London by the king's order. Both ladies were accused of having been unfaithful to their lord and sovereign. The truth is, Anne Boleyn was beheaded because Henry had fallen in love with another woman, whom he wanted to marry. The charge of infidelity may have been true in Catherine Howard's case. Only twenty when she married the king, she may well have been bored by the marriage. At forty-nine, he had bags under his eyes and was fat, surely not a man to die for.

Hans Holbein the Younger
(1497/98 — 1543)
Henry VIII
Galleria Nazionale d'Arre Antica, Rome


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