William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, by Hans Holbein the Younger, hangs in the Louvre, on the second floor in the wing named Richelieu. Salle (room) 8 holds a number of fascinating paintings, of which this is just one example. Here’s another.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the Louvre. Everyone wants to see the famous works, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, and the Mona Lisa, all justly famous and worth seeing. After your first trip, you find other rooms, which display some of the vast history and culture of the human race.
I like portraits; in fact, I frequently look at other paintings and wonder about the models the artist used, on the grounds that many a Virgin Mary is some woman the artist knew, and it’s interesting to think about the her life. A good portrait makes us want to know more about the person. In this case, I knew that this had to be about the time Henry VIII separated the Church of England from the Vatican.
It turns out that Warham was involved. He arranged the marriage of Catherine of Aragon to Arthur, the son of Henry VII, and brother of Henry VIII. When Arthur died young, Warham officiated at the marriage of Catherine and Henry VIII, and crowned both. Although under Henry VIII, he was supplanted by the clever Thomas Wolsey, he was involved in Henry VIII’s efforts to obtain annulment of his marriage to Catherine, on various grounds related to her first marriage. The refusal of the Pope to grant the annulment led to Henry’s break with the Vatican and his assumption of the role as the head of the Church of England. Warham assented to this break, although he later asserted the privileges of the Catholic Church.
This painting was done about the time of the annulment hearings, The curators tell us that the open book is a breviary, open to a Litany of the Saints. Each letter is perfectly formed, even over the curl of the page. There is a crozier and a mitre, and he is wearing a fur stole, probably ermine, all marks of a Catholic Prelate, and sharply painted.
According to the note at the top of the painting, Warham was 70 at the time of the painting in 1527. Scholars think he was born in 1450, so more likely Warham was 77. At first look, Warham seems younger, perhaps in his late 50s or early 60s, but when you know the history, you can see that he is worn out. It looks like he is trying to keep his eyes open, but they want to close. The flesh of his face hangs heavy. He doesn’t know what to do with his unadorned hands, so the painter handed him a pillow on which to rest them. This is a weary old man. With his history, perhaps he was wondering if his entire life’s work was a failure.