LONDON (Reuters) - A 16th century watercolor of King Henry VIII's "lost" palace, one of the earliest and most detailed depictions known to exist, is expected to fetch up to 1.2 million pounds ($1.9 million) at auction.
Nonsuch Palace, next to no traces of which survive, was commissioned by the Tudor king to outshine palaces built by his arch rival King Francois I of France and in celebration of the birth of his first legitimate son.
The royal palace, built as a hunting lodge, was named "Nonsuch" because no other palace could apparently match its splendor.
Archaeologists believe the ink, chalk and watercolor painting to be the only surviving impression of what it actually looked like.
Christie's, which is offering the picture in December, says it is special because it was painted in situ and is one of only four contemporary impressions made. The others are later representations.
The picture, painted by Joris Hoefnagel in 1568 as a record of the most important buildings in Europe, has only been displayed in public twice before and was last seen 25 years ago in America.
"Not only is it one of the earliest British watercolors and a work of art of immense beauty, but it is also the most exact pictorial record of Henry VIII's great commission," said Benjamin Peronnet, head of Old Masters at Christie's.
Construction of Nonsuch in Cuddington, Surrey, southeast England, began in 1538 and took eight years to complete.
It was still incomplete when Henry died in 1547 and stood for less than 150 years having fallen into disrepair in the 1680s.
A countess who owned it began demolishing the palace in to sell raw materials to pay off her gambling debts.
By 1690 the palace had vanished, and for almost 400 years its appearance was only guessed at through written records and sparse visual representations.
No trace of the palace remains on site in Nonsuch Park, but masonry and pottery have been excavated and recovered and are on display in various places, including the British Museum.
(Editing by Steve Addison)