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Watercolour of Henry VIII’s lost palace to go on display in the V&A

Ask a person on the street to name one of the Tudor Royal Palaces, and most probably top of the list will be Hampton Court Palace. However, this was not the most spectacular that title would have to go to Nonsuch Palace in Cheam. Lost to the nation as we will see, we only have about six images of its splendour, and it has been announced this week that one of them will remain in this country and be exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The picture painted in 1568 by the celebrated Flemish painter Joris Hoefnagel, subject to an export ban earlier this year the picture has been purchased with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund. It will be exhibited in the British Galleries of the Museum from December 10th.

Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, said: “Given the exceptional rarity of this work and its depiction of such a celebrated architectural monument, it would have been very sad to see it sold abroad.  So we’re really pleased it will remain here in the expert hands of the V&A, where it can now be shared with a wide public.”

Nonsuch Palace was Henry VIII’s most ambitious building project and was started some thirty years before the painting was made. It was so named because the idea was that no Palace currently built would rival its splendour, especially Fontainebleau, a Palace belonging to Henry’s rival the King of France. The building was rich with stucco and ornamentation and built in a Franco-Italianate design and all the intricate work both in stone and slate was faithfully reproduced in Hoefnagel’s picture. The palace was not finished when Henry died in 1547, and ten years later, the Palace was sold by Mary I to Henry Fitzalan 12th Earl of Arundel. Henry finished the construction and possibly in celebration commissioned the painting.

Joris Hoefnagel had been born in Antwerp in 1542, the son of a dealer in diamonds and tapestries. Joris was a self-taught artist of miniatures, landscapes and illustrated manuscripts; he was also a keen draughtsman. He was well-travelled through Europe assisting his father with trading and painting pictures. Whilst he was there, it was known in 1568, he was in London staying with Flemish businessmen, and during that time he painted the picture for the Earl. He went on to be Court Painter to the Habsburgs in Vienna and produced many fine illuminated manuscripts for the Emperors before dying in July 1601.

The Palace was brought back under Royal control by Elizabeth I, and it was her favourite Palace. In 1585 it was the location of the signing of the Treaty of Nonsuch between England and the Netherlands. The Palace stood for about 150 years but was demolished between 1682 and 1688 by Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland, who sold its raw materials to pay off her gambling debts. It is said that some of the wood panelling from Nonsuch can now be seen in the Great Hall of nearby Loseley Park.

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