Let me start by tantalising you and declaring that today My Daly Art Display is about three people, a young English king who came to the throne aged nine and died six years later, a Netherlandish portrait painter who became the King’s painter and finally a former chairman of an English Premier League football club. Has that wetted your appetite to read on?
The king in question, who we see in the painting, was King Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Edward was born in October 1537 just over nine years before his father died and the crown passed to him. Although he was the first son of Henry he was the third child of the monarch. Henry VIII’s first child was Mary, born in 1516, whose mother was his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. His second child was his daughter Elizabeth, born in 1533, his mother being Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn. However Henry didn’t want a girl to succeed him so he got Parliament to pass three Succession Acts, the First Succession to the Crown Act of 1534 disbarred Mary becoming Queen of England on the grounds that she was a bastard leaving the yet unborn Elizabeth the true successor. However in 1536 with the execution of Anne Boleyn, the mother of Elizabeth, Elizabeth was declared also to be a bastard and Henry’s parliament passed the Second Succession to the Crown Act of 1536 which barred her from succeeding him to the throne of England. At this time Henry had no heir although he had just married his third wife Jane Seymour and Edward had yet to be conceived. In 1543 it all changed again when Henry had his Parliament pass a Third Act of Succession which made his son Edward the legitimate successor to his throne with Mary and Elizabeth reinstated as second and third in line. Henry VIII died four years later and the nine year old Edward became King Edward VI. His reign lasted just six years as at the age of fifteen he contracted tuberculosis and died.
The second person involved in this painting was the painter himself, William Scrots. Little is known of his early life but he came to light as the court painter to Mary of Habsburg, the Regent of Netherlands in 1537. We also know that Scrots travelled to England around 1545 where the following year he became the court painter of Henry VIII in succession to Hans Holbein. It is believed that his annual salary for this position was £62. 10 shillings, double what Holbein had been receiving. After Henry’s death in 1547 he remained as court painter to the young Edward. Scrots painted a number of portraits of Edward VI, one of which is today’s featured painting.
It is interesting to note that Scrots painted an anamorphic profile of Edward VI, which is a painting which looks totally distorted unless viewed from a certain angle when what is depicted becomes clear. His predecessor Holbein had painted The Ambassadorsin 1533, in which he included a distorted shape of a skull lying diagonally across the bottom of the painting and which can only be recognised as such if viewing it from a very acute angle.
My Daily Art Display featured oil on panel painting is simply entitled King Edward VI and Scrots is thought to have painted it around 1540. It is an unusual portrayal of the monarch as it is one in which the sitter is seen in profile. It is awash with detailed iconography. We see in the painting both a red and white rose which symbolised the Houses of Lancaster and York respectively, the two great English dynasties, which were united by Edward’s grandfather, Henry VII. The Latin inscription below the portrait speaks of Phoebus, the sun, and Clytia, the sunflower, both of whom feature in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid relates how Apollo turned the Princess Clytia into a sunflower as punishment for exposing his romance with her sister Leucothea. Look at the sunflowers in the painting. Normally they would turn and face the sun but in this portrait they have their “backs” to the sun and face the boy-king, which was probably meant to symbolise the power and influence of the young man. It is believed the portrait was commissioned by the Stanhope family who were related to Edward’s uncle and chief minister, Edward Seymour who was for a time also the Lord Protector. The painting remained in the Stanhope family until 2004.
And so to the third person connected to this painting, the former Premier League football chairman. As I have just said the painting remained in the Stanhope family for over four hundred and fifty years until 2004 when it was auctioned by Sothebys. This painting was considered to be one of the most significant sixteenth-century paintings ever to have come up for sale. It was purchased for £700,000 by the Peter Moores Foundation for Compton Verney. Sir Peter Moores is a British businessman, art collector and philanthropist, a former chairman of the Liverpool-based Littlewoods football poolsand retailing business in the UK and was briefly the Chairman of Everton Football Club.
So there you have it – a fascinating oil on panel painting, a tale of three men; a boy-king, an artist and an ex football chairman. What more could you ask for?