Wolf Hall Part 5, Chapter 3 Summary
by Hilary Mantel

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Part 5, Chapter 3 Summary

Hans Holbein, the famed artist of Tudor royalty and aristocracy, has finished his portrait of Thomas Cromwell. He brings it to Austin Friars, where Cromwell discovers that he is shy about looking at it. His eyes start at the bottom frame and slowly rise. He sees a quill, scissors, papers, his seal, and a Bible. The Bible is not his Bible, since Holbein decided that his own book was too worn and used, so he substituted one bound in blackish green with gilt edges. In fact it is a book on how to take care of books, not the Bible at all.

Cromwell looks at his hand in the portrait and notices that it is smooth “as the skin of a courtesan.” He holds a paper loosely in his fist, but there is a sense of motion. He wears a turquoise ring that had belonged to the cardinal. He once had such a ring of his own, given to him by his wife Liz when their son Gregory was born. It was in the shape of a heart.

In the portrait, Cromwell is sitting at a heavy table, which seems to pin him in. He remembers that during the sitting, he had plenty of time to think, but those thoughts do not show in his eyes. He had wanted to be painted in his garden, but Holbein had objected, wanting to keep it simple. He is wearing his winter clothes, making him think of armor. Perhaps he needs it, since he knows that there are now many people in England who would like to stab him.

He lets his family come in to see the portrait. His niece Alice objects that he looks too stout, but Richard quips that a curved surface better deflects the impact of cannonballs, referring to an experiment by Leonardo da Vinci. Chapuys, the Emperor’s ambassador, is brought in and dances a bit before it. Chapuys does not like it at all, feeling that Holbein has missed the mark in showing Cromwell’s character.

When Gregory comes home, Cromwell shows it to him. As Gregory stands beside him, Cromwell realizes that his son is now taller than he is. He imagines what he would look like in a mural. Gregory says nothing, but Cromwell says that Mark (a servant boy who attends George Boleyn) is correct in saying that he looks like a murderer. Gregory is surprised that his father did not already know this.