King Edward VI and the Pope

About this Object

Painted by an anonymous artist, this complex, enigmatic scene was previously thought to commemorate Edward VI’s ascension to the English throne upon the death of Henry VIII in 1547 as it depicts Edward, seated at the side of his father’s deathbed, surrounded by members of the Privy Council including the Protector, Lord Somerset, and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland.[1]

However, in 1993 Margaret Ashton published Reformation and Iconography in a Tudor Group Portrait in which she conclusively dated the allegorical painting to the reign of Elizabeth I as the ‘the ornamental bedpost of Henry VIII's bed derives from a print published in 1564, and the detail in the top right-hand corner in which soldiers are smashing images comes from a [Dutch] print published in the second half of the 1560s’.[2] Her conclusions were later substantiated by Dendrochronological analysis establishing that the panel upon which this picture is painted comes from a tree that was felled between 1574 and 1590. [3]

Though we now know when the painting was made, the reason for its composition remains unclear. Was it intended to ‘commemorate the anti-papal policies of Edward VI and to celebrate the successful re-establishment of the Church of England under Elizabeth I’;[4] was it ‘addressed to the queen and her government as a reminder of the appropriate direction the church settlement should take’;[5] or was it intended ‘to indicate the tremendous hostility to the Pope still current in Elizabeth I's reign’? [6]


A Slow-Looking Story:

The National Portrait Gallery in collaboration with Cogapp’s Storiiies Project to create a guided tour of King Edward VI and the Pope. As this image is IIIF-compatible, the Storiiies platform allows users to curate journeys through heritage objects. To learn more about this panting, click the ‘forward’ arrow below:


As was the case with Margarito d’Abruzzo’s Virgin and Child Enthroned at the National Gallery, this painting was also in need of conservation. In the video below conservator Nicole Ryder explains the reasons why conservation was necessary and her process in restoring the painting for exhibition as part of the NPG’s The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered exhibition, held from September 2014 to 1 March 2015.

Restoring the NPG Gallery's King Edward VI and the Pope with Nicole Ryder is provided courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, and the conservation work was sponsored by the Bank of America Merrill LynchArt Conservation Project. For more information please click here.