New Project Announcement!

Anne Boleyn: The B Pattern


Anne Boleyn was the second Queen of Henry VIII, she was executed in 1536, and she is arguably one of the more popular figures in Tudor history today.  Similar to Lady Jane Grey, many portraits have been associated with Anne’s name over the course of time.  None have produced the documentation to conclusively prove an identification and Anne continues to go without a portrait painted from life to this day.

One of the most famous depictions of Anne is what I refer to as the B pattern. This image has been extensively reproduced in history books when discussing Anne’s story.   The B pattern depicts a lady wearing a black French Hood and a pearl necklace with a gold letter ‘B’ hanging from it.  All surviving portraits were probably produced as part of portrait sets illustrating Kings and Queens of England, but what I find interesting about these portrait’s, is, we know so little about them.

During the latter half of the sixteenth century it had become popular for ‘portrait sets’ to be produced.  These sets were often displayed in public places, in galleries, in homes across Tudor England and in some of the royal palaces occupied by the Monarch.  Portrait sets were not only produced to document historic figures, but also demonstrated loyalty to a specific cause.  As the mother of the Reigning Monarch, Elizabeth I, Anne was often depicted within the sets as the wife of Henry VIII. 

Portrait sets were created in workshops and required a lesser skilled artist than the Great Masters who were probably commissioned to paint the original, thus making them cheaper and more accessible to the individual living in Tudor England.  An image was often derived from a standard pattern of an individual, based on an existing image, description, engraving or in some circumstances a tomb effigy.  These could be used by the workshops to quickly trace the desired image on to a wooden panel so that the portrait could be produced as quickly and effectively as possible.[1]

A small number of portraits based on the B pattern and dated to the end of sixteenth century still exist today.  Some are in public galleries whilst others remain in private collections across the world.  Most of the individual portraits depicting Anne, first appear in documentation during the turn of the twentieth century, with little known regarding there provenance prior to this.   

The B pattern was most certainly accepted as an image of Anne Boleyn during the latter half of the sixteenth century.  As for what source it was based on, in truth, we do not really know today. The purpose of this study is to look at the surviving collection of portraits depicting Anne that derive from the B pattern.  In compiling this study, I hope to establish a better understanding about the production of ‘portrait sets’, and the use of Anne’s image. I hope to Look at each portrait as an individual, in the hope of establishing some sort of database of information concerning each portrait.  Where possible I will attempt to document information relating specifically to the date and provenance of each image in the hope of ascertaining more information and identifying a possible sequence in which the portraits were painted.      

[1] For more information on the production and use of portrait sets see: Daunt. Catherine, Portraits Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England, May 2015

5 thoughts on “New Project Announcement!

  1. Looking forward to this!
    It’s interesting how this particular imagery of Anne Boleyn was once called the ‘NPG (National Portrait Gallery) type’. But now, with so many more of this version being brought to light, the ‘B Pattern’ as you call it, is much more appropriate a name.


    1. Yes, I do hope this little project will bring some sort of order to what is known about this particular pattern. Hopefully we may be able to work out in what order the individual portraits came or in the least document some of the provenance information. 😀


  2. Oh, what a fascinating project! How interesting. I have always wanted to know more about the Anne Boleyn portraits. Not to mention the workshops, which I think is a very interesting phenomen in themselves and am really looking forward to see your research into.

    I have recently become interested in the workshops as well 😊

    As for the ‘B pattern’, I agree with the above, it’s inspired.


  3. Are you aware of this page on one of Alison Weir’s sites, which lower down shows a survey of over 20 of the existing ‘B’ pendant portraits? A few are modern but many are 16c copies. The fascinating thing is that they all clearly depict the same person but some have certain features in common, and others not. For instance, some show Anne’s hands, some have her holding a flower, some have differences in the jewellery on the headdress and dress, or a brooch on the dress; one shows her standing in front of a curtain next to a window or balcony, and some show a table or wall with a drapery in front of her. This indicates to me that there might well have been several prototypes in existence that were copied from. I’m not convinced by the argument one frequently encounters that Henry VIII was able to destroy all portraits of Anne after her execution: there must have been a number already in the possession of the nobility and peerage, or even abroad, and people could simply have hidden them or kept their survival tactfully and discreetly secret. There must have been at least one surviving contemporary source from the life for the ‘B’ portrait, which was so extensively copied.
    The most intriguing example on Weir’s site is one in a roundel which bears has the name ‘Lucas Cornelii’ – standing for Lucas Corneliszoon de Kok, a Dutch artist who rose to prominence and worked for a time at Henry VIII’s court as one of the King’s painters (according to the art historian Karel v. Mander). Does this mean that Lucas was the artist who did the original ‘B’ portrait of Anne while working at Henry’s court? It would make no sense to have put his name prominently on a copy and not a more well-known one, like Holbein. Someone must have had evidence that he’d painted Anne.


    1. Hi,
      Yes, thank you for that I was aware of the image on Alison Weir’s website. Most appear to be from the National Portrait Galleries File on the B Pattern and the last three are certainly modern, so have little historical significance.

      I certainly agreed that not every image of Anne could have been destroyed after her execution and the B Pattern was based on something. What we need to be mindful of is that most appear to have been produced as part of portrait sets. The B pattern was certainly accepted as an image of Anne during the second half of the 16th century. All surviving copies do have slight differences which suggests that the portrait was created with the use of a standard pattern and the artist would then use his/hers creative freedom to complete the fine details and background. The use of a curtain or cloth was a common within the production of portraits sets and was often used to link each individual portrait together, a little like a matching frame.

      I do hope to discuss each portrait individually in the future and am still trying to locate information regarding them. One of my aims is to try and establish what order the portraits came.

      As for the Lucas Cornelii portrait, I have yet to locate its current whereabouts. I am often quite sceptical when looking at images of famous historical figures that have a history of over four hundred years behind them. Most portraits today have been over painted and added to during the its history. I have seen so many paintings that have had Lady Jane Grey’s name painted on the panel surface at a later date, for example.


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