Artwork - Sir Thomas More

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  • Title: Sir Thomas More
  • Artist: Unknown
  • After original by: Hans Holbein
  • Medium: Oil painting
  • Categories: Portraits
  • Catalogue number: WOA 2703
  • Description: Sir Thomas More was a politician, lawyer and intellectual who served Henry VIII. First elected to the House of Commons in 1504, More represented Great Yarmouth. While sitting as a Member of Parliament, he was also under-sheriff of London and corresponded regularly with the scholar and theologian Erasmus. In 1516 More published his best-known work, “Utopia”, and he became Henry VIII’s private secretary a year later.

    Although More was one of Henry VIII’s most successful civil servants, serving as Chancellor from 1529, he refused to accept Henry’s split with the Catholic Church or the Act of Supremacy passed by Parliament placing the monarch at the head of the Church. As a result, he was charged with treason on 1 July 1535 in Westminster Hall, and condemned to death after the jury had deliberated for fifteen minutes. He was executed on Tower Hill five days later.

    The portrait of Thomas More was one of the first works of art to be owned by Parliament. The painting is after an original by Hans Holbein painted in 1527, which is now held in the Frick Collection in New York. The popularity of Holbein’s portrait led to many copies being made over the centuries. Parliament’s copy was probably taken from a watercolour held in the Windsor Castle Library, rather than from the original. The artist responsible is unknown. It was donated to Parliament by Rt Hon Charles Abbot MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons from 1802–1817. Over the years Parliamentarians have given many works of art to the Collection.

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