London – Westminster – Tate Britain (A Man in a Black Cap by John Bettes)

This is the oldest artwork in the Tate’s collections, painted by John Bettes (?-1570) in 1545. It’s not known who the sitter was, other than he was aged 26. Bettes was a court painter for King Henry VIII, so likely to have worked with Hans Holbein the Younger and records note that Catherine Parr paid Bettes for several of his paintings in miniature.

The background was painted with smelt, a blue pigment, but this has over the centuries turned brown. Which isn’t ideal, although some Holbein’s paintings of King Henry VIII have avoided that fate and have retained their blue.

It’s only through this painting that anything at all of use is known about John Bettes, as he wrote on the back of the artwork “done by John Bettes, Englishman”. This, along with the 1545 date on the front of the painting, meant that a few other artworks could be credited to Bettes as well. His son, John Bettes the Younger (?-1616) also became an artist who worked in London.

The Tate acquired this artwork in 1897 and it’s oil painted onto oak.