I’ve been doing lots of work on Tudor portraiture recently, and it’s taken me back to my days at Sudeley Castle. In one of the Castle corridors, aptly named The Vertue Corridor, are thirty-three hung portraits of members of the Tudor court by George Vertue. The originals, now in Windsor Castle, were taken from life by Henry VIII’s court painter, Hans Holbein. Holbein drew at least eighty members of the court, and over the centuries these have been lost and found and re-mounted on several occasions. The identities of the sitters have been the cause of much controversy, and some of them are still unidentified.
In the late seventeenth century they were lost until they were found by Queen Caroline (consort of George II) in a bureau at Kensington Palace. George Vertue dearly wanted to make copies of the drawings but Queen Caroline refused permission because she was worried the originals would be damaged, but following Caroline’s death Vertue was able to make copies of them.
George Vertue was the official engraver for the Society of Antiquaries from 1717 until 1756. He travelled all around England engraving objects of antiquarian interest. His portrait now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. Vertue copied thirty-three, tracing the outlines of the drawings on to sheets of oiled paper, which partly accounts for some of the oil stains which can be seen on some of the originals.
Among those that can be identified are portraits of Sir Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne, and William Parr, Marquess of Northampton, the brother of Katherine Parr.