Adding to Holbein's Sketch of Anne Boleyn - plus a Free Coloring Page

The Tudors

Hans Holbein the Younger's famous sketch of a woman in a silk nightgown, purportedly of Anne Boleyn, is making its way through Tudor social media again as the sitter is now accepted by many scholars indeed, as Anne. I have enjoyed reimagining paintings of her likeness over the years and this one is no exception. Let's dive in to some of my choices for this one. 

While the hair in the original chalk drawing appears to be a yellow hue, it is thought that the artist's media for this sketch has faded due from being handled as well as natural pigment loss over the centuries. For my sketch, I've kept her hair brown but keep in mind that we don't know for sure what was considered "dark" hair back in Tudor times. [source: Dr. Owen Emmerson shares valuable information such as this on his Facebook page as well as through special events and podcasts]

Let's move on to the part of the drawing that I focused most of my energy on: the nightgown! It's thanks to my historian friends that I started to think more about what this gown might have looked like. Let's start with a bit of information from Natalie Grueninger's blog, 'On the Tudor Trail'. I highly recommend reading this description of a gown that Henry VIII ordered for Anne Boleyn, and Natalie's supporting text here. 

Inspired by Natalie's article and her source of Herbert Norris’ Tudor Costume and Fashion, I wanted to find out more about what black satin, black taffeta, and bands of velvet might have looked like back in the 16th century. Below is the excerpt from Norris' book. 

‘In shape this nightgown was a loose wrap-over garment reaching to the feet. Of black satin, it was lined throughout with black taffeta and had wide bands of velvet down the fronts and round the hem. Its sleeves were large, and as buckram was used to line the upper parts they must have been much puffed at the shoulders. There would be a deep turned-down collar, and cuffs of black velvet at the moderately wide wrists.’ 


Using Holbein's sketch and the above description, I started by following the folds of Holbein's mark-making to create a loose but puffed-up garment in the sleeves and torso. We see tube-like shaded areas on the sleeves, which could be the velvet bands. At first, I thought of velvet as more of a flat material but 500 years ago, sumptuous velvets fit for a queen would have been made with silk strands and stitched into textured loops, creating decorative motifs. I swear I can make out a tiny flower on one of her sleeves so I went with that for this band motif. The "wide bands of velvet down the fronts and round the hem" also match some imagery I found of similarly banded designs from the 16th century. 

Buckram lining the interior of the gown would have made the fabric stiffer and able to hold a bigger shape, like we see with some of the voluminous folds in the sitter's upper arm area.  Lastly, I've illustrated the main fabric to be a shiny satin. Wow, to be lined with taffeta too... how fancy! In the 16th century satin and taffeta would have been made with silk. 

I hope you have enjoyed thinking about what Anne Boleyn's nightgown may have looked like. As a thank you for reading, here is a free download of the ink drawing for you to add your own shading and decorative elements. Happy coloring! 

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