Thomas Wriothesley (1505–1550), First Earl of Southampton

Hans Holbein the Younger (German, Augsburg 1497/98–1543 London)

ca. 1535
Vellum laid on card
Irregular, cut down, 1 1/8 x 1 in. (28 x 25 mm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1925
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    This miniature, which is widely ascribed to Holbein, is based on a drawing by him in the Louvre, Paris. It has apparently been cut down to fit an oval frame. Wriothesley (1508–1550), who was Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the Great Seal, acted as Henry VIII's executor and privy counselor to Edward VI.

  • Catalogue Entry


  • Provenance

    the sitter, Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, London (until d. 1550); Earls of Southampton (1550–1624); Thomas Wriothesley, 4th Earl of Southampton (1624–d. 1667); his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Wriothesley (1667–d. 1682/83); her widower, Edward Noel, 1st Earl of Gainsborough (1682/83–d. 1688/89); their son, Wriothesley Baptist Noel, 2nd Earl of Gainsborough (1688/89–d. 1690); his cousin, Baptist Noel, 3rd Earl of Gainsborough (1690–d. 1714); his daughter, Lady Susan Noel (1714–d. 1758); her widower, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 4th Earl of Shaftesbury, Wimborne St. Giles, Dorset (1758–d. 1771); Earls of Shaftesbury, Wimborne St. Giles (1771–1851); Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, Wimborne St. Giles (1851–about 1875; sold to Cook); Sir Francis Cook, Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey (about 1875–d. 1901); his son, Wyndham Francis Cook, London (1901–d. 1905); his son, Humphrey Wyndham Cook, London (1905–25; his sale, Christie's, London, July 7–10, 1925, no. 307, for £283.10 to Agnew); [Agnew and Sabin, London, 1925; sold to MMA]

  • Exhibition History

    London. South Kensington Museum. "Portrait Miniatures," June 1865, no. 2093 (as "Portrait of a Gentleman in a Furred Dress," lent by the Earl of Shaftesbury).

    London. Burlington Fine Arts Club. "Portrait Miniatures," 1889, no. 8 (lent by Sir Francis Cook).

    New York. Pierpont Morgan Library. "Holbein and the Court of Henry VIII," April 21–July 30, 1983, no. 4.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 5, 1996–January 5, 1997, no. 6.

  • References

    George Scharf. A Descriptive and Historical Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures at Woburn Abbey. [London], 1890, p. 5, under no. 5, identifies the sitter as Thomas Wriothesley, based on an anonymous portrait of him at Woburn Abbey.

    Gerald S. Davies. Hans Holbein the Younger. London, 1903, p. 218.

    A. B. Skinner in Catalogue of the Art Collection, 8, Cadogan Square, S.W. 1, [London], 1904, pp. 110, 147, no. 665.

    George C. Williamson. The History of Portrait Miniatures. London, 1904, vol. 1, p. 11, mentions a miniature attributed to Holbein in the Cook collection, probably this work.

    Dudley Heath. Miniatures. London, 1905, p. 96, mentions a miniature attributed to Holbein in the Cook collection, probably this work.

    Richard W. Goulding. "Wriothesley Portraits: Authentic and Reputed." Walpole Society 8 (1919–20), p. 47, no. B.ii, pl. XIII, states that the attribution to Holbein is improbable, since Holbein died in 1543, and Wriothesley wears in this miniature the same ermine-lined mantle that he wears in the Woburn Abbey portrait, representing the sitter after his election in 1545 as a Knight of the Garter.

    Bedford. "Bevorstehende Versteigerung der Sammlung Humphrey W. Cook, Esqu., bei Christie in London." Kunstchronik und Kunstmarkt, n.s., 35 (June 27, 1925), p. 241.

    Bryson Burroughs. "A Miniature by Holbein." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 21 (April 1926), pp. 98–99, ill. on cover, attributes it to Holbein and gives provenance; comments that the miniature was probably originally circular, adding that the Louvre study was at one time trimmed close to the outline of the head; dates the MMA miniature between 1530 and 1540.

    H. C. Marillier. "Christie's" 1766 to 1925. London, 1926, p. 228.

    Basil S. Long. British Miniaturists. London, 1929, pp. 214–15, states that it "seems to be plausibly ascribed to Holbein," and notes that it was probably once circular.

    Wilhelm Stein. Holbein. Berlin, 1929, p. 267.

    Clare Stuart Wortley. "The Portrait of Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, by Holbein." Burlington Magazine 57 (August 1930), pp. 82, 85–86, pl. A, finds Goulding's reasons for questioning the attribution to Holbein unconvincing, since the Garter does not appear in the miniature.

    Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 84, no. 381, as by Holbein; dates it after 1537.

    Louis Demonts. Inventaire général des dessins des écoles du Nord: écoles allemande et suisse. 1, Paris, 1937, p. 46, attributes it to Holbein and dates the Louvre drawing 1534.

    Paul Ganz. Die Handzeichnungen Hans Holbeins d.J.: Kritischer Katalog. Berlin, 1937, p. 20, under no. 87, calls it a repetition by Holbein of a lost oil painting based on the Louvre drawing.

    Carl Winter. "Holbein's Miniatures." Burlington Magazine 83 (November 1943), pp. 266, 269, observes that it "has very good claims to acceptance" as an original Holbein and states that it was cut to an oval shape.

    Paul Ganz. The Paintings of Hans Holbein. London, 1950, p. 259, no. 138, pl. 177, as by Holbein; states that it was copied from a larger, now lost, portrait that was based on the Louvre drawing; tentatively dates it 1538.

    Graham Reynolds. English Portrait Miniatures. London, 1952, p. 4, lists it with those accepted by Winter [see Ref. 1943] as by Holbein, and calls the group "almost certainly" by Holbein.

    Torben Holck Colding. Aspects of Miniature Painting: Its Origins and Development. Copenhagen, 1953, p. 80, as by Holbein, and originally circular.

    Daphne Foskett. British Portrait Miniatures. London, 1963, pp. 42–43.

    Arlette Calvet in Le XVIe siècle européen, dessins du Louvre. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1965, p. 29, under no. 57, considers the Louvre drawing a study for this miniature rather than for a lost oil painting; dates the drawing possibly about 1534.

    Roseline Bacou. "The German, Flemish, and Dutch Drawings." Great Drawings of the Louvre Museum. 3, New York, 1968, unpaginated, under no. 26, as by Holbein.

    Hans Werner Grohn in L'opera pittorica completa di Holbein il Giovane. Milan, 1971, p. 106, no. 114a, ill., agrees with Ganz [see Refs. 1937 and 1950] that it is based on a larger, lost painting by Holbein.

    Daphne Foskett. A Dictionary of British Miniature Painters. New York, 1972, vol. 1, p. 332, as by Holbein.

    Graham Reynolds. "Portrait Miniatures from Holbein to Augustin." Apollo, n.s., 104 (October 1976), p. 275.

    Roy Strong. The English Renaissance Miniature. New York, 1983, p. 46, no. 3, fig. 38.

    John Rowlands. Holbein: The Paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger. Oxford, 1985, p. 239, no. R.M. 1, pl. 258, catalogues it with rejected miniatures and observes that "although obviously of high quality and closely based on the portrait drawing in the Louvre . . . it is so akin to Hilliard's miniatures as to suggest it was executed in the second half of the sixteenth century".

    Graham Reynolds. "Hans Holbein the Younger Re-Examined." Apollo, n.s., 123 (March 1986), p. 216, states that he would be inclined to remove it from Rowlands's list [see Ref. 1985] of rejected works.

    Graham Reynolds. English Portrait Miniatures. rev. ed. [1st ed., 1952]. Cambridge, 1988, p. 6.

    Graham Reynolds with the assistance of Katharine Baetjer. European Miniatures in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 12, 70–71, no. 6, colorpl. 6 and ill. p. 71.

    Susan Foister. Holbein in England. Exh. cat., Tate Britain. London, 2006, p. 57, under no. 54, states that it is based on the Louvre drawing but is not by Holbein himself.

  • Notes

    This is a miniature version of the drawing of Wriothesley by Holbein in the Cabinet des Dessins, Musée du Louvre, Paris (no. RF 4651).

    Thomas Wriothesley, first earl of Southampton, rose to power in the court of Henry VIII under the influence of Thomas Cromwell, earl of Sussex, and was enriched through the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1538 he was sent as ambassador to the Netherlands to propose marriage between Henry VIII and Christina, duchess of Milan, whose portrait (National Gallery, London) Holbein had painted for the king. Wriothesley became lord chancellor in 1544, but his position was weakened by the death of Henry VIII in 1547, and he died in disgrace three years later.

    The sitter is represented in a similar manner in two old anonymous portraits at Woburn Abbey and at Palace House, Beaulieu. The Beaulieu version was engraved (head and shoulders only) for Harding's Biographical Mirror, published 1794.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History