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Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII's wives to star in National Portrait Gallery exhibition

Henry VIII’s six wives will be stepping into the spotlight (metaphorically) in a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Opening in June 2024, Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queens will tell the story of the women who played such a huge role in the Tudor court over many decades. It will look at how each of them have been represented in art throughout the centuries.

Excitingly, this will be the first exhibition of historical portraiture to be held at the Gallery since it reopened in 2023 after a £41 million overhaul.

Painting of queen facing he viewer wearing Tudor costume
Anne Boleyn by Unknown English Artist, late 16th century © National Portrait Gallery London

While King Henry VIII is one of the most famous monarchs in British history, and while his many marriages are infamous to this day, it’s rare for the women themselves to take centrestage in a major exhibition.

But this new art exhibition will offer an opportunity for visitors to learn more about the story of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr.

The exhibition will feature a wide range of media, from historic paintings by the great Hans Holbein to contemporary photography by Hiroshi Sugimoto. There’ll also be drawings, ephemera, costume and film which collectively will spotlight a wealth of factual and fictional materials that present the life, legacy and portrayal of six women who forever changed the landscape of English history.

Black and white photo realist image of Anne Boleyn playing an instrument
Anne Boleyn by Hiroshi Sugimoto, 1999 © Hiroshi Sugimoto. Collection of Odawara Art Foundation

As yet, that’s all we know about the show. Further details on the specific artworks going on display will be revealed soon. And we await details on when tickets will go on sale too.

But we can almost certainly expect a number of the world-famous portraits of the six wives from the Gallery’s Tudor collection will be part of it. Many are the oldest surviving or only near contemporary examples of portraiture of the Queens.

And for those who can’t get enough of the exhibition and the fascinating story of these women, there’ll be a brand new publication published alongside the show too. Written by curator Dr. Charlotte Bolland, it will include essays from award-winning historians, broadcasters, curators and authors.

Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queens opens at the National Portrait Gallery on London on 20 June 2024.


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