Although British wealth and cultural sophistication blossomed in this period, British painting for elite audiences was largely the preserve of foreign-born artists. Henry VIII’s Reformation of the 1530s forbade overtly religious imagery, so portraiture, such as the well-known depictions of Henry and his court by the German-born Hans Holbein, dominated painting throughout this period. However, mythological and allegorical subjects were commissioned by British patrons: from the Netherlandish émigré Hans Eworth in the mid-sixteenth century, for example, and the Flemish artists Anthony van Dyck and Peter Paul Rubens in the early seventeenth century.

Landscape painting emerged as a distinct genre in the late seventeenth century through the work of further Flemish and Netherlandish artists such as Jan Siberechts and Leonard Knyff, whose country house portraits and rarer panoramic views can be said to be the origin of the British landscape tradition. Francis Barlow was a rare English painter of animals and sporting subjects in this period. There were, however, also many active regional artists with limited professional training whose anonymous works still remain to be identified and attributed.