The king is portrayed here at the age of forty-nine, at the time of his fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves, an alliance supported by the prime minister Thomas Cromwell as a means of binding England to the Protestant princes of Germany. But the princess was soon repudiated and Cromwell executed, as happened to all those who opposed the king's designs. The picture, datable to 1539-40 and not attributed by all art historians to Holbein, can be connected with the lost mural painting in the Privy Chamber of 1537, and should probably be seen in relation to the Portrait of Anne of Cleves in the Louvre: the king's costume, judging by contemporary descriptions, is the one he wore at their wedding. Generally speaking, the portrait in profile is typical of the clients of a painting, as well as of numismatics and genealogical trees, and recalls the practice of the exchange of portraits between correspondents who did not know each other. This was very common in the case of betrothals, and in such pictures women were represented facing to the left, in analogy with their position in front of the altar. The frontal portrait, on the other hand, is mark of the ruler, whether religious or secular: it symbolizes sovereignty. In this state portrait all the elements, the pose, the clothing, the gaze, combine to underline the majesty of Henry VIII, the king who, with the Act of Supremacy of 1534, created the Church of England, declaring himself its supreme head.
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