Ingres’ Copy of Holbein’s Henry VIII

The claim made for the first time by this website that artists have long used face fusion to meld their own features with those of their portrait sitters is supported in the Galleries by dozens of visual comparisons. Unfortunately, photography is such a recent invention we rarely have an accurate likeness of the sitter to unquestionably prove the point. There is, though, one exception: when an artist copies a portrait by another artist while changing it at the same time. Take a look at how Ingres copied Holbein’s Portrait of Henry VIII which is itself based on Holbein’s own self-portrait with his square-cornered beard.  

These two faces may look the same at first glance but are not. The original on the left by Holbein has a fuller beard, a longer face, smaller eyes, a more bulbous nose and a narrower mouth. Ingres took Holbein’s iconic portrayal of the English king and changed it. He must have done it on purpose because he would have had no trouble copying the portrait exactly. We can find out what he did – and why – by comparing it to a self-portrait drawing.

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Holbein's Portrait of Henry VIII (c.1537) Oil on panel. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
R: Detail of Ingres' Copy after Holbein's Portrait of Henry VIII

Click image to enlarge.

Enlarge the image at left and you will notice that:

  • Henry’s face and beard is shorter to resemble the squarer shape of Ingres’ head
  • the beard is lighter to reveal cheeks matching Ingres’
  • the left side of Henry’s eyelid on the left has been raised to more closely resemble Ingres'.
  • the shadow on the nose is lighter to reveal a nostril like Ingres’ and to broaden the bridge 
  • and the mouth has two small diagonal marks on either side suggestive of Ingres’

See conclusion below

Captions for image(s) above:

L: Detail of Holbein's Portrait of Henry VIII
C: Detail of Ingres' Copy after Holbein's Portrait of Henry VIII
R: Ingres, Detail of Self-Portrait (c.1835)

Click image to enlarge.

Ingres knew that the original portrait of the king was partly based on Holbein’s own self-portrait or, at the very least, that Henry was Holbein’s alter ego. The resulting copy therefore suggests not only "the royal authority" of Ingres' mastery (with, perhaps, an unseen pun on his powers of execution) but also, and as importantly, a sense of self-identification with Holbein. Some of Holbein's features are part of the king's and, in copying Henry, Ingres adopts them too. Though Picasso is known to have wondered whether each great master was a reincarnation of the one before, he was probably not the first to think that. Many others may have had the same thought, including Ingres.


Original Publication Date on EPPH: 27 Oct 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.