The NPG Portrait of Anne BoleynFor my first #portraittuesday post, I thought I’d look at the famous National Portrait Gallery of Anne Boleyn, which was painted late in the reign of Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth I.

The NPG Anne Boleyn portrait depicts Anne Boleyn in her famous B necklace and she is wearing a French hood with a velvet veil hanging down the back and the billiments decorated with pearls, and a French gown, which, during 1530s, featured a close-fitting bodice, a straight-across natural waist-line, closely fitted upper sleeves and deep turned-back cuffs, and a decorative underskirt and undersleeves.

When costumer Molly Housego examined the NPG painting of Anne Boleyn to replicate her gown, she noticed that Anne was wearing a blackwork trimmed smock (see the visible blackwork trim around the neckline), then a dark (perhaps black) decorated kirtle. Molly commented that the decorations you can see below the blackwork are “goldsmith’s work comprising twin pearls, alternating with a twisted metal gold bead in almost a basketwork design – I suspect they were fashioned from gold wire. You can see that they are almost spherical.” Molly went on to say that “The goldsmith’s work around the square necklines of gowns like Anne’s was merely tacked to the kirtle by ladies in waiting and would often be moved from outfit to outfit. The gown fitted over the kirtle and could often be of a lighter weight fabric in summer or fur-lined in winter”. The oversleeves are a dark brown and may well be sable.

In 2010 and 2011, this painting underwent conservation treatment, due to the wooden panel support becoming “structurally unstable”, and it was also analysed to date it.

You can read all about the conservation treatment it was given on the NPG website at…, but dendrochronology showed that the panel was made from oak from the Easter Baltic and that one of the boards used was from a tree felled after 1584. The NPG believes that “the size and format suggests that it originally formed part of a set of portraits of kings and queens” and that it was based on an earlier likeness of Henry VIII’s second wife.

Here is a photo of me saying hello to Anne Boleyn at the National Portrait Gallery in 2018:

Claire Ridgway standing next to the NPG portrait of Anne Boleyn

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2 thoughts on “#portraittuesday – The NPG portrait of Anne Boleyn”
  1. This is the very first portrait of Anne Boleyn I ever saw, and I must admit I have never liked it very much, her face is too long and looks hard but the eyes are most beautiful and expressive, and after seeing other portraits of her, this one alone I feel does justice to her most famous feature, her legendary eyes which were commented on throughout her lifetime, this queen who was noted for her french style does indeed look the epitome of chic in her black gown with the hanging sleeves and her famous French hood, it was a style of elegant simplicity and far more attractive than the over ornate and fussy styles so beloved of her daughter, I have studied this portrait over the years and often marvelled at the detail that went into the exquisite embroidery around the neckline and the gold wiring (which I often thought was gold thread) is evident in the copper like beads in between the pearls that complement her beloved necklace with the famous B initial, the same pearls also border the hood, maybe Anne had a love of pearls knowing that their lustre complimented the smooth olive tone of her skin, (pearls because of there ivory beauty are said to give warmth to the complexion), the sheer black which borders the neckline looks to me like lace and then the headdress which has a coppery brown trim, the soft brown sleeves which possibly are sable all complement the outfit which made this stylish queen all stand out from the rest, but the dresses the queen and her ladies wore were not just a case of slipping a dress over one’s shoulders, as mentioned an under garment was worn, called a smock, then the kirtle then the final piece was worn, cuffs and sleeves often embroidered would be attached to the outfit and all these layers added to the voluptuous figures that floated around the court below tiny waists and heaving bosoms, the necklines were worn very low, and although one ambassador described Anne’s bosom as not much raised, Henry Vill found them enchanting, calling them ‘ her pretty duckies’, that Anne was small boned is evident in the study of her remains found in Victoria’s reign, and her skull with the straight orbital ridge and deep eye sockets bear testament to her distinctive eyes, the slender well turned foot and perfect symmetry of her bones all tell us that she was indeed a very slender and elegant woman, as she has been described, Elizabeth also was small boned and never became the bloating carcass in old age like her father did, she ate sparingly though had a love of sugary confections, she rose early and walked for miles and loved the hunt like her father, I believe Anne also had a small appetite ever aware of her figure or quite possibly, was one of those enviable women who eat what they like and never seem to pile on the pounds, we know she liked a wine but we do not know what her favourite foods were, although she had a craving for apples when she was pregnant with Elizabeth, Elizabeth must have been told that her father ordered all portraits of her mother destroyed and therefore had this one commissioned,more portraits emerged along with a biography by her ex suitors grandson, in her daughters reign Anne Boleyn was recognised once more, she was no longer a shadow queen, a figure of shame and disgrace, it is a valuable service that this portrait of the tarnished queen was restored to its former beauty, paintings and artefacts of Anne are precious because they are rare and they must undoubtedly be preserved, however the one image of her I find the most poignant, is the crude rough drawing of a falcon without its crown and sceptre in the Beauchamp Tower, almost certainly the work by one of her wretched alleged lovers.

  2. This is my favorite of the many portraits of Anne. I love how it portrays her spirit and vivacious nature – she even appears to be smirking a bit. I even have a pair of socks with this portrait on them!

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