I was reminded of this piece just today when someone asked about portraits of Henry VIII without a hat. This was the only likeness I could think of, which prompted me to look further into this curious piece.
This bust, which has been in the Royal Collection since its creation, has been identified as a young Henry VIII. Analysis of the style and dating of the paint has revealed that it was created c.1498, when Henry would have been only 7 years old. The artist is one Guido Mazzoni, a sculptor from Modena, Italy, who was known for his ‘strikingly realistic character[s].’
The bust is made of terracotta and decorated with green paint laid over tin foil, perhaps intended to give the impression of cloth of gold thread. It measures nearly 32cm tall.
It is believed that Mazzoni created this bust when he was in Paris working on the tomb of the French king, Charles VIII. During this time Henry VII was also looking to have his own tomb designed, and Mazzoni submitted designs and an estimated cost. His designs were rejected in favour of those by Pietro Torrigiano – anyone who has seen Henry VII’s tomb in Westminster Abbey can attest to the magnificence of Torrigiano’s work. It is unknown whether the bust was commissioned by Henry VII, or if Mazzoni took the initiative to gift this bust of the king’s youngest son, perhaps to curry favour for his submission.
The identification is conjectural, based upon its presence in the Royal Collection and the circumstances of the artist. However if you compare the figure to portraits of an older Henry VIII, and of his son Edward as a child, I think there is a definite resemblance, particularly around the eyes. We may never know definitively who the child is, but I certainly think this is our chance to glimpse the child that would grow into King Henry VIII of England.