|The Laughing Child|
Possibly a bust of Henry VIII
Guido Mazzoni, 1498
The Royal Collection
The bust is crafted of an extremely thin layer of clay which was pressed into a very detailed mold. The child’s open mouth, nostrils and ears allowed steam to escape while the piece was fired. Removal of Victorian-era overpaint revealed the original painting scheme which was rendered over a layer of foil—giving the piece a natural glow.
The subject of the bust has been a matter of debate for centuries. William III had the sculpture removed from Whitehall Palace and placed in storage during his reign—perhaps it didn’t go with his décor or perhaps he found it unnerving. At that time, the bust was listed in the Royal inventory as “Head of a Laughing Boy.” By 1815, the inventory referred to the bust as “Head of a Laughing Girl.” Later, it was changed to simply, “German Dwarf.” However, historians now suspect that the bust is actually a portrait of a young Henry VIII—aged about seven years. This makes sense. The child does have Henry VIII’s features and the distinctive Tudor coloring. However, his true identity will never be certain. He is, most certainly, not, however, a German dwarf.