The handling of the paint in this portrait and the overall appearance of the picture suggests that the artist was a talented early seventeenth-century copyist who has faithfully replicated the earlier composition of Hans Holbein the Younger. The level of detail suggests that the artist had access to both a pattern and the original painting when producing this work.
Hans Holbein’s original sketch of Warham is housed in the royal the collection at Windsor Castle and his finished portrait, after which this work was painted, currently hangs in the Louvre. Erasmus, a close friend of Warham, had sent him a portrait of himself painted by Holbein as a token of their friendship, and it was perhaps this that prompted the Archbishop to have his own likeness recorded in 1527 in a similar pose to that of his friend.
This fine copy of Holbein’s portrait of Warham was painted between the early 17th and mid 18th centuries. The work is of a high quality and the artist has accurately re-created the same look of weariness in the old man’s face and the naturalistic play of shadow across flesh in Holbein’s original. The depiction of the Archbishop’s regalia is also faithful to the highly detailed rendering in Holbein’s work and displays a great deal of skill on behalf of the copyist.
Hans Holbein (1497/8–1543) was the first great British artist, and is regarded as one of the greatest artists of all time. He moved to England from Basel in 1526–8 and then again in 1532–43, an extremely turbulent time in English history when all around were losing their heads.
Last of the pre-reformation archbishops of Canterbury, William Warham was born around 1450 in the Hampshire town of Malshanger. Educated at Winchester, he then went on to train as a lawyer at New College Oxford. He proved his skills as a diplomat in his role as Master of the Rolls under Henry VII and was later ordained and made Bishop of London and Keeper of the Great Seal in 1502.
In 1504 he was promoted to Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor, presiding over both the coronation of the new King Henry VIII and his marriage to Katherine of Aragon in 1509. He would later be called upon to act against his conscience and assist Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in attempting to negotiate with the papacy to arrange an annulment for Henry’s marriage to Katherine. Wishing to avoid the king’s displeasure, Warham remained compliant to the crown during the divorce proceedings and submissively accepted Henry as supreme head of the English Church in 1531, but in 1532 he felt compelled to voice his true feelings and published a protest against the Reformation. He was perhaps saved retribution from the crown by his death by natural causes several months later.