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1497/98–1543. SIR THOMAS MORE. Dated 1527. Oil on panel. 29 1/2 x 23 3/4 in. ( 74.9 x 60.3 cm.) Acquired in 1912 ... Thomas More (1477/78–1535), humanist scholar, author, and statesman, served Henry VIII as diplomatic envoy and ...


Anne Cresacre                 Margaret Roper

A funny story about Holbein:

It seems he was being bothered by an Earl as he worked from life in his studio. Holbein insisted that the Earl could not come in and that he would see him afterwards. The Earl would not here of waiting and stormed up the stairs to the studio where Holbein met him and pushed him down the stairs. Holbein immediately went to the king and implored him to intercede. The Earl soon appeared demanding that the king punish Holbein. The king replied that he could make all the Earls he wanted but he could not make a Holbein.

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Saint Thomas More with His Daughter and Ward

30” x 40”, Oil on canvas, July 12th, 1999 

Born February 7, 1478. Executed July 6th, 1535

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First Pencil Sketch of the Portrait 

Pencil on paper, 8.5” x 11”, January 1999  

The painting of Thomas More was for Thomas More College in Crestview Hills Kentucky. The college has been around for many years but of late, they have been expanding. It is the only Catholic College in Northern Kentucky. The portrait will hang in the new student center. The main visual image at the college is a small stone chapel barely 15’ x 15’ with a spire making the height about three times the base. The stone is light gray formed into large block about 80 pounds each. Normally ducks and geese surround the chapel as the chapel is within 30 feet of a pond of about 150 feet in circumference.  

The first part of the painting was to copy and read the history of Thomas More from Butler’s Lives of the Saints. Later Tom obtained the video “A Man for All Seasons.” After watching the film, many times he started to get an idea of the scenery of the times. He also downloaded some works of More off the Internet and had them read to him via a computer voice while he was painting.

The major task in this portrait is to depict the life of Thomas More through one visual image. The life of Thomas More is one of giving his life for his beliefs against an insane king. It was if the government was acting ill responsibly and imposing on its subjects an unholy oath. Is God above man? Did God create man or man create God?  

My first solution to this depiction problem is to have Thomas in the Tower with his daughter Margaret. Meg, as was her nickname, was the smartest woman in the realm because of Thomas’ interest in educating women. Thomas More Colleges were started because of this legacy. In the painting, Thomas would be in a hair shirt and his daughter in the finest dress of the day and in her hands is the gold chain of the order that Thomas gave up for his beliefs.  

Tom scheduled a photo session with his models and the results were hopeful. He thought the beginning of the painting was going well but then he came to my senses. He was planning a painting about the death of Thomas More not the life of Thomas More. He abandoned the previous drawing and used a drawing of Thomas More’s family done by Holbein the Younger to plan a new composition centered on Thomas teaching his daughter and ward.  

Tom wanted to center the portrait on his teaching of women. The new portrait has Thomas sitting stoically as Holbein portrayed him as his students Meg and Anne Cresacre, Mores ward, explained various points to him. In such a composition, the eyes seem not to be looking directly at the people involved because it is not physically possible to have a reasonable depiction in the manner of proper portrait painting along with direct eyesight amongst all players in the painting. The approach was more of a formal portrait of each participant than a group scene. The costumes were carefully approached. Instead of using period costumes, Tom used the formal gowns of the two girls from their spring formal dances. In an amazing way, they seemed to fit in and allowed him not to depict them in somewhat similar costumes of the period. The period costumes would have been much more demanding due to extreme clothing configurations of the period.  

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Presentation of the painting with Father Cleaves, president of Thomas More College on the left and the artist on the right.

Tom thanks

Martin Wood

Melton Mowbray, England

(A descendant of Sir (Saint) Thomas More via his only son John)

for corrections in this story.



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