Anne Boleyn by Hans HolbeinBendor Grosvenor, historian and art dealer, has just published an interesting article on his Art History News blog entitled Anne Boleyn regains her head in which he discusses research he and David Starkey carried out a few years ago on the Holbein drawing inscribed “Anna Bollein Queen”.

He has actually reproduced the article he wrote in 2006 for an exhibition at Philip Mould called ‘Lost Faces – Identity & Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture’, which was guest curated by David Starkey. It’s not ‘new’ news, but it is a very interesting read when compared with the thoughts of Eric Ives and Roland Hui, which you can read in “Anne Boleyn Portraits – Which is the True Face of Anne Boleyn?”

Related Post

57 thoughts on “The Holbein Sketch – Is it Anne Boleyn?”
  1. I still don’t know if I can get my head around the fact that this may actually be Anne. Out of the two Holbein drawings, I much prefer the other one as my version of her! And I still don’t picture Anne as wanting to appear anything less than queenly when sitting for a portrait. Also the blonde hair colouring in this Holbein is confusing, has the colour faded with time or is it that someone else came along later and put it in?

      1. I agree with Bella that the hair appears to be blonde. An enlarged photograph of the sketch under discussion shows the strands and uneven edge of the hair:
        If you compare examples of Tudor women wearing headdresses and bonnets (similar to the one seen in this sketch), you’ll see that the trim of the headdress is angled UPWARD ABOVE the ear, while the hair is angled LOWER OVER THE EAR (as seen in the sketch under discussion).
        Headdress and trim examples:
        Bonnet and hair examples: (1) —-
        (2) —-
        (3) —-

        Therefore, I don’t believe this is Anne Boleyn.

  2. It may have been a preliminary sketch for a portrait. Anne was a ground breaker so the unusual style could be a new or continental style she was interested in. I think the face has similarities to the Hever portrait. Very intriguing debate tho.

  3. I genuinely don’t believe this to be a portrait of Anne Boleyn. The nightdress the sitter is wearing is nowhere near grand enough for that of a queen. Descriptions of queen Anne’s nightwear that are recorded from the time (i think the info we have is from inventories made each year from her account books,gifts from henry, etc) include jewelled pieces, satin, taffeta, silk, furs, lace, intricate embroidery etc. This nightgown appears to be cotton and quite basic. There is no fancy decoration. I don’t believe that Anne Boleyn would have sat for a portrait in her nightwear anyway.
    If you study the shape of the sitters face, it appears to be rounded. Anne is said to have had an oval shaped face. It is recorded that Anne was very slender, the sitter clearly has a double chin. It looks nothing like any of the other portraits that have been identified as Anne. In total honesty, the inscription could have been added at any time after the portrait was done.

    1. This image does seem to contradict the well known portraits of Anne, but if this was a preliminary drawing then there would only be the finer details in the face, which would account for the plain clothing.
      To have a portrait done by anyone meant the person had money, so that would imply this person to be poor; this cannot be so.
      But I agree that the face shape doesn’t look right for Anne.

      1. I feel the sketch could be a preliminary one done while she was pregnant – she was very proud of her marriage and condition, and might have wanted to portray herself as the rightful wife and mother of the heir. I think the face and nose do resemble the face-on portraits of her.

        1. Nanci, I think you have hit the nail on the head. I suspect that this drawing was a preparatory sketch for a painting showing Anne pregnant, as the mother of the heir. The jaw line that seems to be worrying everyone may be a glandular problem (perhaps connected with pregnancy and therefore intermittent), referred to by at two (admittedly hostile) accounts.

          That no painting derived from the drawing ever seems to have seen the light of day suggests that it was made during one of the two pregnacies that miscarried in 1534 and 1536.

          Many people have argued that this really can’t be Anne because of the way she is dressed. But that must have been even more true for 17th and 18th Century observers, who were even more conscious of displays of status than we are today, so the fact that nevertheless someone did feel confident this this was “Anna Bollein Queen” suggests to me that they had some strong reason to make the identification.

  4. NO WAY,is this Anne Bolyen, she was one of the most stunning women, thats is one reason Henry was one the chase. Claire whats your thought? Maybe Anne Of Cleives?

    1. Nothing I have read indicates that Anne had any great beauty. I gather she was of plain looks but had bewitching eyes and that not always definable quality we call sex appeal. She was one of those women that men seem to find more attractive than they are. She was also alluring and witty.

  5. I do not think it is a preliminary sketch of Anne Bolyn b/c the model’s hair is golden and her jawline appears to be someone that was robust. Primary sources describe Anne as petite and dark haired/eyed. Maybe the Holbein was sketching models that had feature’s of Anne’s perhaps her nose and lips?

  6. I don’t believe its Anne. I believe its Jane Seymour. In the video I watched about who Anne face. On the video its stated Anne wouldn’t allow herself to look like that. The features don’t compare to what she is said to looked like.

  7. I have to disagree. The woman in this portrait looks nothing the other portraits or general descriptions of her. Also I believe that Anne would have never allowed herself to be dressed so plainly and informally, especially as she was still trying to portray herself as the rightful Queen of England and image was very vital propaganda.

  8. I just read and compared the pictures of on Claire’s link, and have to agree with her. This also looks an awful like Jane Seymour. Anyhow, it does not fit with Anne’s saying, “…and I have such a little neck…,” and with that chin even an expert swordsman from Frannce would have a hard time with that chin, too, methinks….Thank you very much! WilesWales

  9. The whole notion of Anne being a trend-setter is quite different from the notion of shocking for the sake of attention (think Madonna), or that any attention is good attention. The latter two seem to be from a more modern mindset. And I agree with sassuhfrass’ point that Anne was very anxious to portray herself as rightful Queen. I can’t believe she would have posed for this or even thought it was a good idea.

  10. I read the “Anne Boleyn Regains Her Head” article and found it unconvincing on several levels. Most troubling is Grosvenor’s assumption that the comment about Anne being goitrous because she wore her cloak up to her neck at her coronation was, in fact, accurate. There is no reason to believe this comment was anything other than anti-Boleyn propaganda, like Nicholas Sander’s comments about the wen (which Grosvenor also seems willing to accept and does not appear to realize was inspired by spite and poltiical/religious differences). Also, I remember reading (was it in Ives’s book?) that wearing one’s cloak up to one’s chin was the custom at English coronations, something the foreign observer did not seem to realize. There is, in short, no reliable evidence that Anne had facial swelling, and all contemporary descriptions of her suggest otherwise.

    And the “well only a royal woman would buck convention by dressing like that” theory seems very unpersuasive. We know the Tudors set great store by display; why in the world would a power-dresser like Anne favor plain dress for a portrait?

  11. It is hard for me to believe that this is Anne when compared to other portraits and discriptions of her, though every artist has their own style and interpretation of a subject, this one to me anyway. carries no resemblence at all.
    Its one of those ‘will we ever know for sure’ bits of history, so until we do I will always visualise her like the portraits at Hever and the N.P Gallery.

  12. According to the article, it was Edward VI’s tutor, Cheke, who identified the subject of this drawing as Anne Boleyn. If this is correct, then the person in the picture (IMO) would not be Jane Seymour. While Cheke didn’t know Anne, I think he would have known enough about Jane — and would have seen a lot of her family members — so that a picture of Jane would have been identified accurately. Even if Cheke had any doubts, and didn’t want to identify it conclusively as Jane, he wouldn’t have labeled it with the name of the then-disgraced Anne.

  13. Allthough I was not there,or maybe in a past life? She looks very much like Anne Of Cleves? The king titled her his sister after there mairrage what do you think? Maybe one of his children?

    1. I can’t see a single facial feature in common with any of the Anne of Cleves portraits?. A. of C. had much finer features, rather a heart shaped face with thin lips, an elongated nose and firm jaw and chin. Can you please support your theory more fully?

  14. The writer made some interesting points which certainly got me thinking about the portrait:
    Did the artist deliberately emphasise Anne Boleyn’s dark eyes, black hair, dark skin and black dress to reflect contemporary late sixteenth century views of Anne as a witch and enchantress, and was therefore painted as part of hostile propaganda towards her?

    It really got me thinking. However, this is my favourite portrait of Anne. To me, it emphasises her regality and dignity, and portrays her as beautiful and captivating. I believe it to be the most authentic – although it was painted years after her death, it and the National Portrait Gallery portraits are the two most authentic, in my opinion, as they were probably copies of an earlier lost authentic, as several historians have suggested.

    The portrait at the top, to me, is not Anne Boleyn. Only Sander and Wyatt – correct me if I’m wrong – refer to her having a wart or swelling, no one else does, and the portrait does not seem to match contemporary descriptions of Anne. As others have pointed out, Cheke misidentified several other portraits, why should this be any different?

    What do you think, Claire?

  15. CLAIRE, I really did’nt think Anne was not that bad looking,she looks very lovely on the ring and pendent!! It would be great if we new who this women was,Catherine Parr? Who do you think she may be?????

  16. Hi Claire,

    I am new to the site and am currently reading “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” by Eric Ives based on your recommendations. I love the site and the book, thank you for the research and information you provide here!

    Forgive me if this has been covered before in other “appearance” posts, but out of curiosity, on what image did Madame Tussaud’s base the wax figure of Anne? It seems an accurate representation, what do you think?

    I love the Hever potrait, but I prefer this Holbein sketch. When you consider the additional pregnancy weight and the angle of the head (profile facing downward), the face shape and features are similar to the ring owned by Elizabeth I. I love the pensive mood Holbein captured.

  17. I’m not an expert on the period but I was a picture researcher for many years, and I’ve often had to find portraits of the period. I’m pretty certain this is not Anne, however the portrait does bear a striking resemblance to the one possibly of Mary Boleyn cited by Claire in this post:

    the sitters share the same shaped face and chin (nothing like Mary’s with that wide forehead and incisive jawline), and also the full lower lip. Holbein would no doubt have met Mary several times, inc in informal settings.

  18. By the way an extraordinary album of portraits of the Tudor period was sold at auction in London a few years back, which I believe was sadly was broken up and sold for individual prints (criminal imo that this is allowed to happen!). If I remember correctly it was made around 1825 and came from the collection of the late Christina Foyle. It had been compiled by Sarah, the Countess of Essex. and was titled ‘Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth’ (w/c and gouache on paper). I captioned photos of the images which photos are now in the Bridgeman Art Library, and I felt at the time some were from portraits which have since been lost. I can’t recollect if there were any of Mary there.

    Alison Weir has disputed the traditional identification of the Hever portrait however, since the sitter is wearing ermine, which would be forbidden to Mary, though presumably not to Anne.

    Whoever this is in either portrait, I do feel the sitter is the same young woman in both – and there must be a connection to Hever Castle

    1. What a shame that it was broken up like that, how sad! I’m sure there are “lost” portraits in private collections somewhere, like the full length one of Anne that Lord Lumley had in his possession in 1590 and that was still in existence in the late 18th century.

      Regarding the Mary Boleyn portrait at Hever. Susan Higginbotham wrote an excellent article about this and in the comments, after she had done further research into the sumptuary laws, she wrote the following:-
      “Ermine update: I looked through the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England. The sumptuary legislation from Edward IV’s 1463 Parliament reads, “And also to ordain and decree that no esquire or gentleman, or anyone else below the degree of knight, or their wives, except the sons of lords and their wives, the daughters of lords, esquires for your body and their wives, shall use or wear, from the said feast [of the Purification of Our Lady next], any velvet, satin brocade, or any cloth of silk simulating them, or any bands made to imitate velvet or satin brocade, or any fur of ermine, on pain of forfeiting 10 marks to your said highness for every offence. . . . Provided always that the steward, chamberlain, treasurer and controller of your honourable household, and the carvers and knights for your body, and their wives, may use and wear furs of sable and ermine.”

      I haven’t found Tudor legislation specifically dealing with ermine. William Carey was an esquire for the body. So assuming the 1463 legislation still applied to ermine, it seems that Mary Boleyn could have worn ermine as the wife of an esquire for the king’s body.”

      So the wearing of ermine might not rule Mary Boleyn out as the sitter. It is interesting what you say about them both being the same woman, Sara.

    2. Reproductions of a lot of those portraits of various Tudor court people that were found in that palace drawer are also in an old withdrawn library book that I have: “The Paintings of Hans Holbein – First Completed Edition” by Paul Ganz published in London by The Phaidon Press. There are some used copies available from a few sources. I found a couple for just under $65. The portraits are on pages 58-171 so there are many of them.

      I have another book “Selected Drawings From the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle: Holbein by K.T. Parker, also by the Phaidon Press and printed/published in 1954. About 40 pages and all portraits. Fun!

      The edition that I have was printed in 1950 and its dimensions are coffee table book size, so it is quite nice to peruse. The drawing that we’ve been discussing in this thread is included. I love Holbein’s portraits because it is almost like looking at a photograph. Not bad after the passage of centuries!

  19. I’ve always been very friendly with a lot of artists, Claire, and they taught me when trying to identify people in portraits to look closely at the proportions of the face, as well as the features. This includes length of nose, width of forehead, cheek area and chin, and the relationship of various elements in the face. The basic shape of the face is also fundamental, regardless or age or changes in weight. These two young women seem identical to me. The straight longish nose, full lower lip, and curved eyebrows are strikingly similar, as is the basic oval of the face with the full soft chin

    I remember Robert Hunt once scoffing to me when some ‘art journalist’ misidentified a portrait by Francis Bacon of (iirc) Nina Hamnett as Muriel Belcher. As he pointed out, no matter how much Bacon pulled the surface of the face around, he always kept the essential proportions of the face exact (as would any great artist like Holbein). This is why Bacon’s portraits are always easily identifiable to anyone who knows the sitters, no matter how turbulent they appear.

  20. Sorry I have to argue – the apparent golden hair howing IS hair, and not the gold edge of a cap. The annotation is a very much later style of penmanship – very much later ‘wishful thinking’, and we know that the same hand on other of Holbein’s sketches had made mistakes in identifying sitters.

    The sitter is of a reasonably high social status, but possibly someone who is either heavily pregnant, or unwell. To be painted in a state of undress meant that there must have been a jolly good reason for it!

  21. regarding who this portrait is of, i was just reading about katherine ,duchess of suffolk and the hans holbein of katherine and the hans holbein of anne are very similar

    1. According to Emily Pooley who created this waxwork, she used the disputed Holbein sketch in the British Museum. When you look at the waxwork, you can see the similarities.
      I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the site, but there is a gallery of thumbnails of putative portraits of Anne Boleyn, their descriptions and locations.

  22. Hans Holbein was said to do a painting of Anne Boleyn’s aunt Anne Boleyn Shelton. She was married to John Shelton. Could this be her?—sage

  23. From everything I’ve read, the only authenticated image of Anne Boleyn is on a defaced medallion from her lifetime, and all that can be seen is the shape of her face the features of which have been disfigured. There is a surviving ring worn by her daughter Elizabeth containing miniature portraits of Anne and her daughter, but the miniature of Anne is not contemporary with her. It is thought that it might have been made from descriptions of Henry’s 2nd queen by people who knew her.
    No one knows for certain what Anne looked like aside from the few contemporary descriptions of her being of dark complexion with dark hair, and not having an especiallly attractive face.

  24. It is Anne Boleyn. I am absolutely certain of this.

    I played around with the image a bit in Photoshop, and did a few adjustments; got rid of a bit of the double chin – perhaps it was from a later stage in her life, where she’d put on a few pounds? In any case, she’s looking slightly downwards, which can easily create a bit of an extra chin. I also darkened the hair – perhaps Holbein simply didn’t care to color in her hair darker, since it was only a sketch? – and darkened the lines so I could get a clearer view of her face: cheekbones, lips, chin to nose and forehead to nose ratio. It doesn’t take more than that, to see that it could most definitely be her.

    The nose, the raised bump in the middle (that her daughter Elizabeth also had, having inherited her mother’s features, but her father’s complexion), the lips, the eyes, shape of them and her long, sort of heart-shaped face – I think they look way to similar to be anyone else but the late queen herself. All that was changed was getting rid of her chin to match the other portrait of her (younger/slimmer self?) and giving it a more lifelike appearance, along with her eyecolor and haircolor. I don’t think it could be anyone else.

    And I must admit, it even looks a bit like this supposed portrait of her (keeping in mind that it’s also a bit of a different art style):

    Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject 🙂

    1. Wow! Well done, that does look much more like the NPG portrait and the one that hangs by the fireplace at Hever. I think anyone looking down tends to have a double chin, anyway. Very interesting.

      1. Thank you! Hah, yes, I agree about the double-chin part 🙂

        What surprised me was how little needed to be done, photoediting-wise, in order to see the huge resemblence – after all, it would’ve completely defeated the purpose if any real changes had to have been made – all that was done was changing colors from the faded, off-white of the Holbein sketch, getting rid of that extra chin to see her features more clearly, and tracing the original pencil outline to make it all stand out more. The features are very nearly almost identical to the Hever portrait, thus making me believe it really is her.

        If it is, I can’t help but feel that the sketch is the most accurate picture we have of how Anne truly looked like. Very exciting to think about!

        1. I know this post from “Nieve” was from a couple of years ago but what an amazing way to authenticate the Holbein sketch! It is definitely the same woman. I would love to send the i.imgur link with the photoshopped alterations to Bendor Grosvenor the art historian who wrote the “Anne Boleyn Regains Her Head” article. Would that be OK? The image appears to be on a public site.

          Thanks! Denise Hansen

    2. You know, I kept saying that while there’s the possibility, this really couldn’t be Anne. Now that I stumble across this, I can definitely see it. I was still skeptical, though, because of the hair color. While I agree that Anne probably did not have pitch black hair, I don’t see her as a blonde. However, a friend of mine who is interested in art and history, and loves Holbein’s sketches, pointed out that in some of the sketches, the sitter seems to have pale yellowish hair, but the end product, so to speak, shows them with brownish hair. With that knowledge in mind, and the altered image compared to the NPG portrait, I agree that this really could be Anne!

    3. Nieve,

      I know that you posted this seven years ago.
      But I think that with your adaption of Holbein’s
      sketch, you made a very compelling point that
      she could be Anne. And I agree with you.
      Perhaps Holbein made it during Anne’s last
      pregnancy, as she looks very tired, swollen and
      also truly sad. As everything depended for her on
      this pregnancy.

      And I would like to ask you two questions:
      What is your opinion of Holbein’s British Museum sketch?
      Are you an artist?

      But thank you for sharing this.


  25. Denise – It was just a few months ago 🙂 But absolutely, it’s just a quick, rough brush-up in photoshop, you may use it however you wish, as long as you give credit. Even if it is a hastely made thing, that can easily be improved upon!

  26. Thanks Nieve – I sent the sketch to Bendor and credited it you but only as “Nieve”, a commenter from the Anne Boleyn Files. If I hear back from him and he wants to contact you, I will probably need an e-mail. You did a great job – I am utterly convinced that the sketch is of Anne. Denise

    1. Thank you, and sure. Just let me know if he finds it of any interest 🙂 I have an old email adress that I’ll give out – it’s adaki88(at)

  27. In my opinion this is the real Anne Boley:
    It has all the facial features which were mentioned about Anne, the long neck, wide mouth, a bosom not much raised, black eyes, dark eyebrows (and hair) and her prominent nose (from the medal). She’s really attractive and it’s the only picture of her I found where her mouth isn’t tiny and thin. When I think of her, I see that face

  28. I think this is Anne Boleyn, the nose resembles her nose in other portraits, and you can see she has a narrow face, if she was facing you then it would be evident but as it’s just a sketch the features aren’t strong enough for many people to spot a likeness in other portraits of her, the double chin the sitter has is probably because she was pregnant and had put on a stone or two, Holbein was known for his accuracy and it is signed Anna Bollein Queen therefore I’m 100% sure it is her.

  29. It’s her. Someone posted an overlay with the image of the other Holbein sketch flipped and it’s very close to the same person.

    As a portrait artist I can see that the faces proportions are very similar, just with a different pose and time of life. The basic dimensions are there in both drawings.Double chin from a bonnet tied underneath and also looking down. Fuller face and nose due to pregnancy. And our only known image she does have a very full chin, in the damaged coin. Also, keep in mind that ring that Elizabeth had, reddish hair that could be thought of as brunette although it’s definitely lighter than a dark Chestnut or black. Nowhere does it say that she had black hair just that she was brunette, and that could be referring to her skin tone and dark eyes – just not a pale blond. The only thing that gives me pause as that there is a strong resemblance to Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and they have the exact same high neck garment although it’s probably a style that was worn by a lot of people.

  30. For me personally this is probably a rare portrait of Anne Boleyn, a sketch rather than a finished article but it wasn’t unusual for people to be painted in night attire. Anne was known to have owned a black sensual nightgown and she was no spring chicken when she married Henry. The usual portrait of a young and pretty Anne Boleyn are ideal pictures and don’t date from the period, any of them. This sketch was in the sketch book of Hans Holbein who was an honest painter. She was probably pregnant at this time and about to retire. There are certain facial shapes which are characteristics of her description. For me, this is a true portrait of Anne, maybe not as flattering as some people want it to be, but Anne Boleyn was no beauty. She had lovely eyes and fine features but she was not described as beautiful and Henry found her intelligence to be her most attractive feature. She was reasonable to look at, not a conventional beauty and most certainly not an English Rose.

    Portraits of Anne Boleyn are always controversial because historians consistently tell us that Henry Viii ordered all of the portraits of Anne Boleyn destroyed but not one single one has produced any contemporary evidence for this. Not one single quote from any original source has ever backed this claim which is reported as fact. It is assumed that Henry gave this order to wipe out the memory of Anne Boleyn and it is true he did try to rid himself of much of her memory, yet some things survive. Portraits of Anne are dismissed as later or copies because of this false assumption. This sketch has stood out as one remarkable contemporary drawing of Anne which dates from the time. Yes, there is much debate about it but for many it is still the nearest likeness, perhaps the only true likeness of Anne Boleyn we still have.

  31. This is not Anne Boleyn.
    Her face was never ever rounded like this, not even when pregnant.
    This person also looks much older than Anne would have been when pregnant with Elizabeth, Anne was 26 when Elizabeth was born.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *