The odd couple
COLLECTING: From Castle Howard... portraits of two men with very different views on marriage. John Vincent reports.
O prizes for guessing the identity of the man on the left. It could be nobody but Henry VIII, whose likeness towards the end of his life is one of the most easily recognised in British history.
Fat of face, jowl, neck and body, he was increasingly beset by ill-health but still cut an imposing figure when this portrait was painted in 1542, at about the time his fifth marriage ended with the execution of Catherine Howard on the grounds of alleged adultery.
The king’s formidable frame, regal manner and unflinching gaze are captured – in the last official likeness of his reign – by the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger. During the following autumn Holbein died of the plague in London and Henry himself died a few years later, in 1547.
The aristocrat on the right is less easily recognisable, although an inscription on the top left of the painting reveals the sitter to be William Spencer (Cavendish), 6th Duke of Devonshire, the famous “Bachelor Duke”, known affectionately to his family simply as Hart, seen through the eyes of the celebrated portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence.
What the two distinctive portraits have in common is that both were in the collections at Castle Howard, Yorkshire’s finest stately home, and among treasures which fetched £12.7 million at Sotheby’s in London. The Henry VIII portrait, in the Howard family for about 300 years, realised £965,000, while the one of the “Bachelor Duke” (only son of William Cavendish, 5th Duke, and his celebrated wife, the great political hostess Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire) sold for £365,000.
Beset by ill-health, Henry still cut an imposing figure when
this was painted.