The ‘Moost Happi’ portrait of Anne Boleyn: A reconstruction by Lucy Churchill

   Anneboleynaligned

‘Lucy Churchill’s brilliant achievement has brought us as close to the real Anne Boleyn  as we shall ever be able to get.
Professor Eric Ives, OBE.
Author of ‘The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy’.

‘Through meticulous research Lucy Churchill has created an authentic replica of the medal of Anne Boleyn, as it would have looked originally.  A must for anyone interested in Anne Boleyn!’
Alison Weir.
Author of ‘The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn’.

Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, was beheaded at his command on the 19th May 1536.  Though much has been written about her since then, very few indisputable facts about her life remain.  Even her date of birth and her appearance is the subject of speculation.  The paintings of her that are still in existence, were painted during Queen Elizabeth’s reign and cannot be relied upon as a true record.  There are two sketches by Holbein that were subsequently labelled with her name, but  this increases the confusion as they depict two very different sitters.

The only undisputed portrait of Anne Boleyn is on a 38mm lead disc, is in storage at the British Museum. Known as ‘The Moost Happi medal’ it was made as a prototype in 1534, in anticipation of the birth of a male heir.  However, the pregnancy was unsuccessful and the commission was abandoned.  Anne’s position as Queen of England became less assured thereafter. 

1aoriginal_anne_boleyn_moost_happi_medal_british_museum 

Although the medal is acknowledged as the only contemporary portrayal of Anne Boleyn, its value is often overlooked. The softness of the lead has allowed some of the details to be compressed and eroded, especially those areas which were the most raised such as her nose and forehead.  Historian G.W.Bernard states that “the medal is consequently not that helpful as an indication of her appearance”  (1). 

Reconstruction

My interest in Anne Boleyn had grown over the last few years, since having chanced on a biography of Henry VIII.  Initially I was appalled by the seeming awfulness of his second wife, and was motivated to research her character in greater depth.  I found the available evidence to be tantalisingly contradictory, and desperately wanted to know more.

My professional background is as a stonecarver, specialised in making carefully researched reconstructions for restoration projects.  I looked at images of the medal and saw that though damaged, it still held a wealth of information.  Out of my own curiosity, I decided to rebuild these features and thereby give a face once again to Anne Boleyn.

I was given access to the medal at the British Museum and, wearing protective gloves, I was able to examine it under close magnification.  I recorded my observations in detailed notes and annotated sketches.  I felt very privileged to be so close to an object which may have been handled by Anne herself, and was extremely excited by my findings.

Back in my workshop I scaled up a front-on photograph of the medal to four times its original size. I traced every visible detail to make a layout which then gave me the accurate dimensions to work from. Using a needle I pricked along every line in the layout to transfer the design onto a wax disc, and  modelled the different contours of relief form based on my notes and sketches.

2a_annotated_sketch_of_anne_boleyn_medal

It was a technically difficult task.  I needed strong light to work by and this caused the wax to soften.  This meant that  the areas that I had already completed were vulnerable as my hands hovered above, working on a different area.  This problem was resolved by putting the model into the freezer every time the wax  became too soft.  I was full of admiration for the skill of original artist who worked on a smaller scale, without decent lighting or magnification.

3anneboleynmedalworkinprogress

Reproduction

With great care I took the wax model  to leading  mold-maker, Steve Cole of Articole Studios, so that it could be recreated in a more durable material.  He coated it in silicon rubber to make a negative form from which further copies could be cast with great accuracy.

When I saw the first plaster copy I fretted over minor details and decided to rework these.  Keeping the original plaster prototype, I got Steve to make a second copy which I then refined using tiny engraving tools.  From this a second mold was made and cast.  The features of the second version were more delicate, but refining them gave the medal a Classical appearance.   I decided to stick with the first version as the immediacy of  the modelling was closer in spirit to a 16th century artifact.

The medal considered in a wider context.

Having studied the medal in great depth at the British Museum,  and reconstructed the details myself,  I recognised elements in the medal depicted in paintings of the other wives of Henry VIII.  The best comparison is  Holbein’s portrait of Anne’s successor, Jane Seymour.    Within Holbein’s portrait we can see the same diagonally woven cloth of the headdress that is in the medal.  The sequence of jewels on the gable hood, and in the necklace is the same.  The necklace is also depicted in portraits of his subsequent queens (2).

4a_janeseymour_holbein_portrait_with_pearl_and_jewel_necklace

The fact that the details of the queens attire appear to have been reproduced so precisely in the ‘Moost Happi medal’ suggests that the portrait was made with considerable skill and attention to detail.  My view is that, despite the damage to some parts of the portrait, it retains a wealth of information.  That  the costume is so well depicted suggests that the features of the face are likely to have  been equally well observed.

One could argue that the medal sculptor might have had longer access to the costume than to the queen herself. However, Anne Boleyn was known to have been fastidious about the presentation of her image (3), and I do not believe that her features would have been recorded carelessly.

In summary,  we can deduce that Anne Boleyn clearly had a long face with high cheek bones, and a prominent chin.  Though Anne Boleyn wasn’t considered a beauty in her time, the medal presents an image of strong and sensual femininity.
_______________________________________________________________________

For further discussion of Anne’s appearance in relation to the portrait medal see the following Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/susan-bordo-/anne-boleyn_b_4737660.html?just_reloaded=1&utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=1362201b=facebook

See below for References and to see the gable hood / necklace worn by Anne Boleyn in the Moost Happi medal worn in the portraits of Henry VIII’s other wives.

Individually made bronze resin copies of my reconstruction are available to purchase through my website: www.lucychurchill.com.

1_anne_boleyn_medal_gwill_shot

Elements of the costume worn by Anne in the Moost Happi portrait medal can be found in the following paintings:
1560 Catherine of Aragon by English school1 catherine_of_aragon with 4pearl and jewel combo plus cross.2 Katherine of Aragon with  Moost Happi billiment
1-3: Catherine of Aragon
.
(NB: the pattern of the jewels on the billiment of the  gable hood, the top two depictions of the jewels bordering the dress, and the cross, here worn as a brooch).

5aAnn Boleyn Nidd Hall portrait with pearl and jewel necklace 4a JaneSeymour Holbein portrait with pearl and jewel necklace
2: Left, The ‘Nidd Hall’ portrait of Anne Boleyn, which might be a reworked painting of Jane Seymour.
(NB: the necklace).
3: Right, Jane Seymour.
(NB: the jewels on the gable hood billiment, dress adornment and the necklace).

6 Katherine Howard Holbein miniature  with pearl and jewel necklace
4: Catherine Howard.
(NB: the necklace).

7a Catherine Parr National Portrtait Gallery8 Lady_Jane_Grey_portrait now thought to be Catherine Parr
5-6: Katherine Parr.
(NB: the necklace).

References:
(1)
Anne Boleyn – Fatal Attractions, Appendix, page 196.
(2) The Gable Hood and accompanying dress first appear in portraits of Catherine of Aragon, with the matching cross worn as a brooch. The cross, worn by Anne Boleyn in the medal as a pendant, is replaced by pendant with two jewels above a suspended pearl drop. (Worn by Jane Seymour  and Catherine Howard, both in portraits by Holbein, and by Anne Boleyn in the Nidd Hall portrait – although it has been suggested that the painting was of  Jane Seymour, and reworked to satisfy Elizabethan demand).

A pendant with  a three jewels and a pearl drop adorns the familiar necklace in painting of Catherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey.   However, as it is unlikely that Lady Jane Grey would have had access to these jewels during her short reign, the portraits have lately been reattributed to Catherine Parr. See Nidd Hall Portrait of Anne Boleyn, Holbein’s portrait of Catherine Howard, Melton Constable portrait of Catherine Parr, and portrait once attributed as Lady Jane Grey, below.
(3) See Eric Ives “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn”, ‘Image’chap 15, and ‘Art and Taste’ chap 16.

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One thought on “The ‘Moost Happi’ portrait of Anne Boleyn: A reconstruction by Lucy Churchill

  1. Hello Stargazer3 :>) Thank you for your enthusiastic response. I must say that as soon as I saw the medal I felt duty bound to recreate it – having both training to make exact reconstructions, and the passion for history to make the portrait of Anne as accurate as possible. (I knew that her appearance is one of the most examined and discussed in history, which was an extra pressure to get the portrait right).I agree with you and David Starkey that the chin is very similar to that in Holbein’s ‘nightcap’ sketch, and I don’t think that the relaxed attire rules out the possibility that it is Anne. Moreover, in the medal it is clear that the sculptor intended to emphaise a slightly raised area on her neck (this can be detected in the photo of the original by a slightly paler circle), which might confirm that, at times, Anne did suffer from a swelling in her throat.In connecting the Holbein sketch and the medal, it is more problematic that the woman depicted has blonde hair; Anne was reputed (according to Wyatt, and Francis I) to be a brunette. However, the hair of the woman wearing a French Hood in the Chequers ring is also gold, and yet it is *almost* universally accepted to depict Anne. (I would love it to be so, but do not think that it is for that very reason).David Starkey confirmed recently that he intends to reissue his examination of Anne’s portrait with special reference to the Holbein sketch and the recreated Moost Happi medal. I am very much looking forward to reading that. :>)May I ask how you came across the link to my blog? I am always interested to know how the word spreads… Do you know that it is possible to obtain a copy of my reconstruction? If you want to, you can see the details here: http://www.lucychurchill.com/AnneBoleynMedal.php

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