Man in a Black Cap, by John Bettes the Elder



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John Bettes the Elder

English: Portrait of an Unknown Man in a Black Cap. Oil on oak, 47 × 41 cm, Tate Britain, London. Dated 1545 on the front and inscribed on the back: "faict par Johan Bettes Anglois" ("done by John Bettes, Englishman").

Art historians regard Bettes's Man in a Black Cap as a significant work. Its technique is reminiscent of Hans Holbein the Younger's, suggesting that Bettes may have worked with Holbein as part of his workshop.[1] Nothing, however, is known of Holbein's workshop other than paintings associated with it. Holbein does not appear to have founded a school, and Bettes is the only artist whose work reveals his technical influence. For example, he paints over a pink priming, as did Holbein. According to art historian Roy Strong, "He is the artist who, on grounds of style, has the best claim to have worked under Holbein".[2] On the other hand, Bettes's style is distinct from Holbein's; he paints fur more loosely and the beard more flatly than the German artist.[3] In the view of art historian Susan Foister, on the evidence of this portrait, Bettes is "unlikely to have assisted" Holbein.[3]

The recording of an artist's name on a painting is rare in this period. The addition of Bettes' nationality suggests that Man in a Black Cap may have been painted abroad.[4] Since the work's creation, the blue smalt pigment of the background has turned brown; the painting has also been cut down along the sides and bottom, with the inscription reaffixed to the back.[1] It has been speculated that the portrait may be of Edmund Butts, the brother of the William Butts whom Bettes painted. Both were sons of William Butts, a court physician whose portrait was painted by Holbein in 1543.[1]


  1. ? a b c Karen Hearn, Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England, 1530–1630, London: Tate Publishing, 1995, ISBN 1854371576, 46–47.
  2. ? Roy Strong, The English Icon: Elizabethan & Jacobean Portraiture, London: Paul Mellon Foundation, 1969, 65–67.
  3. ? a b Susan Foister, Holbein in England, London: Tate, 2006, ISBN 1854376454, 116.
  4. ? Ellis Waterhouse, Painting in Britain: 1530–1790, London: Penguin, 1978, ISBN 0140561013, 23.



Karen Hearn, Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England, 1530–1630, London: Tate, 1995, ISBN 1854371576.

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