Victoria and Albert Museum acquires watercolour of Henry VIII’s ‘lost palace’

We’ve helped save Joris Hoefnagel’s 1568 painting of Henry VIII’s famed Nonsuch Palace for the nation.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has acquired Hoefnagel’s remarkable work – the earliest and most detailed depiction of Nonsuch Palace – with our support. The painting was subject to a temporary export ban earlier this year, and following the purchase, will now join the National Collection of British Miniatures and Watercolours at the V&A.

It represents the most faithful of only six surviving depictions of the palace, which once stood in Cheam, Surrey. Called Nonsuch, as no other palace could compare with it, this ambitious building was commissioned by Henry VIII in 1538. Its towered façade, decorated with elaborate plasterwork in a Franco-Italianate style, sought to rival Fontainebleau, the residence of Henry’s arch competitor, the French king Francois I. Its lavish stucco reliefs and carved slate decoration, all portrayed by Hoefnagel in exquisite detail, made the palace one of the most important buildings of the English Renaissance.

Still unfinished at the king’s death in 1547, it was purchased from Mary I in 1557 by Henry Fitzalan, 12th Earl of Arundel, who completed the palace and most likely commissioned the watercolour. The palace was later acquired by Elizabeth I in 1592 and became one of her favourite residences. It stood for nearly 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.

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.'

The painting will go on display in the museum’s British Galleries from Saturday 10 December.

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