Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Susannah Hornebolt, Artist at the Tudor Court

Susannah Hornebolt, Tudor Artist (28 January 1547, death of Henry VIII)


Born in 1503, Susannah Hornebolt was the daughter of the Flemish artist Gerard Hornebolt (an Anglicization of Geraert Horenboult) and his wife, Margaret Saunders. 

1534 portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger
of a "wife of a court servant,"
generally identified as Susannah Hornebolt
Susannah's father was a master painter in Ghent, regularly commissioned for work in a variety of media  by Margaret of Austria, regent of the Netherlands--recognized by the regent for his "industry and experience," Gerard Hornebolt was also named as Margaret's valet de chambre in 1515 and awarded a pension. 

Among other projects, he designed stained glass windows, oversaw the production of tapestries and embroidered work, and illuminated several manuscripts, including work on the manuscript now known as the Sforza Hours--originally commissioned by Bona Sforza, duchess of Milan, the incomplete Book of Hours was inherited by Bona's nephew, Philibert of Savoy. As Philibert's widow, Margaret of Austria took the incomplete manuscript with her when she took up her position in the Netherlands.

At some point between 1522, when his name last appears in the accounts of Margaret of Austria (payment for a portrait of Christian II of Denmark, who had visited her in the Netherlands) and 1528, when his name appears in the royal accounts of Henry VIII (when Gerard was described as "paynter"), Hornebolt had arrived in England and entered into the king's service. He was to be paid a monthly wage from October 1528 until February 1538. 

Well, all that is about Susannah's father. What about Susannah? 

When Gerard Hornebolt came to England, he was accompanied by at least some members of his family, including his wife, his son Lucas (also a painter), and his daughter, Susannah. In Ghent, Gerard had run a thriving workshop, specializing in illumination, and it is likely that Susannah had trained and worked there. By the time the Hornebolts relocated to England, Susannah had already been recognized as an artist of some accomplishment. 

In 1521, when she was just eighteen, Susannah had traveled with her father to Antwerp, where she had met the artist Albrecht Dürer, who had bought a work called Salvator Mundi from her (variously described as a miniature, a colored drawing, or an illumination) and proclaimed "It is a wonder that a woman should be able to do such work" ("Ist ein grosz wunder, das ein weibs bild also viel mach").

In England, Susannah Hornebolt secured a place as a member of the queen's household by as early as 1522, with historian Susan James noting her unique position as a female artist at court, her sex making her unable to join the network of other artists in the workshops associated with the king's household.

Susannah married another minor member of the Tudor court, John Parker, probably in 1526. Parker's "mediocre prospects" improved immediately after his marriage, and while Susannah remained a member of the queen's household, her artistic work for the king seems to have come to an end. 

After the death of Jane Seymour, Henry's third queen, in 1537, which coincided with the death of Susannah's husband, John Parker, Susannah Hornebolt faced a number of financial difficulties--the loss of her place at court, the loss of her husband's income, and legal battles with her husband's family over his bequests to her. But in 1539, when Henry married Anne of Cleves, Susannah Hornebolt returned to court. Even more notably, she was sent by Henry VIII to Cleves, where she would be his "personal ambassador" to his soon-to-be bride. Hornebolt also acquired a second husband, a man named Henry Gilman.

While Henry's fourth marriage was short-lived, Susannah Hornebolt remained at court after the royal divorce. She survived the brief reign of Henry's fifth queen, Catherine Howard, and remained in the household of his last, Katherine Parr.

After the death of Henry VIII in 1547, Susannah's her second husband continuing his court employment under both Edward VI and Mary I. Although the date of her death is unknown, Susannah Hornebolt must have died before her second husband remarried in 1554.

After her death, Susannah Hornebolt's reputation as an artist was remembered, at least for a while. In his 1567 description of the history and art of the Low Countries, Lodovico Guicciardini wrote that Susannah Hornebolt "excelled in all painting, in miniature, in illumining." In fact, he claims that it was she who had been "invited by Henry VIII to England." At the time of her death, she was "loaded with wealth and honour." 

Susannah Hornebolt was also included in his masterwork Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari, who wrote that "she was one of a handful of Flemish women who had distinguished themselves by the excellence of their art."*

What is known about Susannah Hornebolt's artistic work? 

About this question, the art historian Hugh Paget noted: "Of her work as a miniature  painter nothing certain has been discovered, but the fact that she lived some years longer than has hitherto been supposed may make it easier to identify her oeuvre. Miniatures of Queen Jane Seymour in the Buccleuch collection and of Queen Katherine Parr at Sudeley Castle appear to be by the same hand: although similar to those attributed to Lucas they differ from them in some respects and may be by Susanna." 

Most sources indicate that no surviving work from Hornebolt can be identified, but James identifies two miniatures, one from 1524 and one from 1526/7, one of them, she claims, bearing Susannah Hornebolt's monogram. The most accessible analysis of surviving miniatures that may be the work of Susannah Hornebolt can be found at the website Tudor Faces--click here to read "Two New Faces: the Hornebolte Portraits of Mary and Thomas Boleyn?" 

A brass commemorating her mother, at All Saints, Fulham, was commissioned by Susannah Hornebolt, and may well have been designed by her. 
The brass commemorating
Susannah Hornebolt's mother,
Margaret, at All Saints, Fulham

Two very useful articles on the Hornebolt family are Hugh Paget's "Gerard and Lucas Hornebolt in England" The Burlington Magazine 101, no. 680 (1959): 396-402 (which I have quoted here) and  Lorne Campbell and Susan Foister, "Gerard, Lucas and Susannah Hornebolt"  The Burlington Magazine 128, nol. 1003 (1986): 719-27 (which specultes about Susannah's designing the brass commemorating her mother). 

I am posting this today because Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547, and he seems to have been a patron and supporter of Susannah Hornebolt for some twenty-five years.


*For the translations from  Vasari, I am indebted to Susan James's The Female Dynamic in English Art, 1485-1603, the most comprehensive source on the life and work of Susannah Hornbolt in English.