The Philip Portrait – Does it Change Anything?

When it comes to the iconography of Queen Elizabeth, we have a plethora of surviving portraits from the sixteenth century. In today’s modern society, it must be hard to find an individual who is not familiar with the many images of the pale faced, Queen, decked out in her red wig and trademark pearls.

Many of these portraits are ingrained in the minds of many history lovers as the images of the confident virgin Queen, however these all relate to a period later in her reign when there was a huge demand for her likeness.  It is well documented that during the latter part of her reign Elizabeth herself, became more aware of the power connected to the use of her image.  The painting’s viewed today in galleries and stately homes across the globe are a symbol of royal authority, and in many cases were produced with the use of symbolism to demonstrate that, despite being a woman, Elizabeth was the natural and legitimate ruler of England. Rarely, do we get a glimpse of the human Elizabeth, stripped of all the makeup and regalia, who ascended to the throne in 1558 at the young age of just twenty-five years old. The iconography relating to the early part of her life and reign is a complex subject and portraits of the young Queen are scarce.  In terms of pictorial evidence there is very little available to inform us what the young Queen looked like.

The Philip Portrait was discovered in the late 1970’s, by London art dealer Richard Philip, little has been discussed or documented regarding the history of this painting and its significance as an early image of the young Queen Elizabeth.  In this painting, Elizabeth is depicted as the young fresh-faced monarch, who, by this period had not established the pomp and regalia associated with her later images but, was being represented by artists as the plainly dressed queen, devoted to the matter of religion.   Does this rarely seen portrait tell us anything about the young Elizabeth and does its possible connection to a small number of other paintings, in which the sitter has for many years been debated, tip the balance in favour of these also depicting the young Queen?

The Philip Portrait
Queen Elizabeth I
Oil on Panel
32 x 24 1/2 inches
©Private Collection

The Philip portrait was originally discovered leaning against the back wall in a picture shop in Cheltenham.  Due to significant overpainting the sitter in the portrait had lost its identity altogether and the painting was simply referred to as a portrait of a 1920’s flapper girl.  Art Dealer, Richard Philip recalls its discovery in a later article on the portrait.  He informs us that ‘upon examining the painting he noticed that a small section of the paint on the bottom left-hand side of the panel had begun to fall away. On closer examination he then noted that the exposed underpaint was harder and much older than the modern paint coving the rest of the panel’. Philip then opted to take a gamble and purchased the portrait immediately[1]

On returning to London, Philip sent the portrait to a picture restorer who immediately began cleaning tests. What was revealed beneath the modern paint layers both astonished Richard Philip and the restorer.  Once fully stripped of its modern overpaint the image of a sixteenth century lady, standing full frontal and seen three quarter length appeared.

The portrait was immediately thought, by Philip, to be a painting of the young Queen Elizabeth, however, as with all portrait research, evidence was required, and he began his research to attempt to prove his theory.  The portrait was first sent to Doctor John Fletcher, a pioneer in the use of dendrochronology, who attempted to establish a date of creation. Though, dendrochronology testing was in its infancy in the 1970’s, Doctor Fletcher was able to establish that the panel was constructed with the use of four boards: one board was of similar pattern to two of the three boards used in the portrait of Richard Wakeman by Hans Eworth which was inscribed with the date of 1566.  On further research Doctor Fletcher confirmed that the boards seen in both these paintings were ‘almost certainly’ from the same tree, and he dated the creation of the Philip portrait to the 1560’s. [2]

With an estimated date of creation Philip then approached Roy Strong, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Strong had published a book in 1963, entitled Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, in which he documented a lifelong interest in the iconography relating to Elizabeth I. According to later reports by Philip, Roy Strong was ‘impressed and astonished’ by the discovery referring to it as ‘a major find in the art world’.[3]  Similarities were immediately recognised between the Philip Portrait and other iconography related to the early part of Queen Elizabeth’s reign and this apparent similarity has continued to be referred to during subsequent sales of the Portrait.[4]   

As for what specific iconography the Philip Portrait relates to is anyone’s guess. As discussed above, very little has survived in terms of portraiture of the young queen.  Unlike her predecessors, who had employed artists of immense talent such as Hans Holbein, William Scots and unofficially, Hans Eworth to produce portraits.  Elizabeth never officially employed a court painter during the first period of her reign, other than continuing the service of miniaturist and illustrator Levina Teerlinc.  The most famous painted image of the young Queen depicted full-frontal, similar to that seen in the Philip Portrait is known as the Coronation miniature.  In this, Elizabeth is depicted wearing her coronation robes and holding the royal regalia, however, recent research into this miniature and the subsequent larger copy, now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery suggests that both were painted circa 1600, towards the end of Elizabeth’s life and possibly in celebration of her long reign. 

In 1978, the costume Historian, Janet Arnold suggested that both the coronation portraits were, in fact, based on a ‘now lost’ portrait depicting Elizabeth at the time of her coronation in 1559.  Arnold’s evidence for this theory was derived from the fact that the artists representation of the clothing worn by Elizabeth in both images matching contemporary documented evidence describing the items in Elizabeth’s wardrobe.  It was therefore suggested that either the portrait was related to an earlier portrait pattern or that the artist was given access to the clothing worn by Elizabeth on the day of her coronation.[5]

The fact that Elizabeth did not employ an official court painter does not necessarily mean that the demand for her portrait had declined.  Documentary evidence suggests that her image was in high demand from the period of her accession.  Elizabeth herself, appears to have been rather embarrassed about the production of her early images.  For this reason, her secretary, Sir William Cecil drafted a proclamation in 1563.  The draft proclamation announced that a portrait of the new Queen would be made by ‘some special cunning painter’ and that this image must be used when producing copies of the Queen’s likeness. Cecil also acknowledges that the Queen ‘hath bene allwise of her own right disposition very unwilling’ to sit for a portrait and asks that all ‘painters, printers, and engravers to cease production’ of her image until a portrait displaying ‘the natural representation of her Majesties person, favour or grace’ can be completed.[6]

Over the years it has been suggested that the 1563 proclamation refers to a particular portrait known as the ‘Clopton type’ however, it is possible that it could relate to an entirely different version of this portrait altogether. The proclamation suggests that due to a lack of access to the young Queen, artists, printers and engravers were creating images of Elizabeth to an unsatisfactory standard.

Named after Clopton Hall, the previous location of the largest version known to exist.  In this portrait, Elizabeth is depicted in a simple black gown with ermine trim and holds a pair of gloves in one hand and a prayer book in the other, a gold pendant containing a large cut gemstone is suspended from a chain of goldsmith work around her neck.  Several versions of this pattern exist, and those that have undergone scientific investigation have all are dated to the 1560’s.[7]  

The recent discovery and research into an early example of this pattern by London Art Dealer Philip Mould, brings about some very interesting questions.  Mould acquired a copy of this portrait in 2010, and, during scientific investigations on his copy he discovered that hidden under the painted surface was an entirely different image. An x-ray of the portrait was taken that revealed that the composition of this copy had been changed from full frontal, like the Philip portrait, to the image facing the viewers left.  Changes in the position of the sitter’s hands, ruff and sleeves where also noted.  Mould’s copy was also dendrochronological tested, and the most plausible date of creation was established as 1552, which does suggest that his copy was probably the first example of this pattern to be created.[8]

It is hard to ignore the similarities in the features depicted in the Philip portrait and the small number of other paintings associated with the young Elizabeth. The most prominent of these paintings are known as the Soule and Hever portraits and much debate regarding the identity of the sitter depicted in both these painting has been had over the course of time.[9]

Both the Soule and Hever portraits display striking similarities to the Philip Portrait, especially in terms of the face pattern used by the artist. Both paintings also display a similar costume as that depicted in both the Philip and Clopton portraits.  The sitter in the Hever Portrait is also shown holding what appears to be a pair of gloves which again is seen in the Clopton Pattern.  The hoods worn by the sitter do appear to be similar in style, however the hood worn in the Philip portrait is of a different colour and a billament of goldsmith work and pearls has been added.   

In preparation for the publication of his book A Queen of a New Invention Portraits of Lady Jane Grey/Dudley Historian, John Stephan Edwards complied intensive research into both the Soule and Hever Portrait’s.  As the Philip portrait had never actually been associated with Lady Jane Grey, Edwards was noted not to mention this copy in his book   During his research, both the Hever and Soule paintings underwent dendrochronology testing, and it was again established that both portraits dated to the late 1550’s. Edwards also suggests the theory that both the Hever and Soule portraits derive from an earlier, finer detailed painting known as Berry-Hill portrait and that all depict the same individual.  Unfortunately, the Berry-Hill portrait is currently listed as lost and was last seen in 1956, when it was purchased by the Berry-Hill Galleries, New York. Edwards rules out the identification of the sitter being that of Elizabeth in favour of Lady Catherine Grey. During his research he notes that no other potential sitter had been discussed and that the possibility of the portrait representing Elizabeth would have been of greater interest to potential buyers.[10]

The Berry-Hill Portrait
Unknown Lady
Oil on Panel
12 5/8 x 9 Inches
© Metropolitan Museum of Art

Roy strong was also noted to refer to the portraits as ‘Borderline cases’ in terms of fitting in with other iconography relating to the young Queen Elizabeth in his 1963 book, and it perhaps these painting in which Strong refers to on viewing the Philip portrait in the 1970’s . Many illuminated documents relating to the first period of her reign have also been discussed when suggesting Elizabeth as the possible sitter in the Berry-Hill, Soule and Hever Portrait’s. Though yes, some similarities can be seen in these manuscript illustrations It must be remembered that the figures of monarchs created on these documents were meant to be a representation and not a direct likeness. [11]

The first pictorial image we have available today, relating to the period when Elizabeth first ascended to the throne is an illustration produced on a document related to the Michaelmas Celebrations of 1558.  This illustration has been associated with artist Levina Teerlinc and in this, the figure of Elizabeth is inconsistent with the figure depicted in the Philip portrait.  The young Queen is not, yet, crowned and is depicted with the crown suspended above her head.  Her face is turned to the viewers left and, on her head, she wears a black French hood similar in style to that worn by her sister, during her reign.

Detail: 1558 Michaelmas Document
Queen Elizabeth I
© The National Archives, UK

A small number of other illuminated manuscripts produced after Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1559, are, again, all associated with Levina Teerlinc, show an image of the full-frontal young queen, with a small figure-of-eight ruff surrounding her face, very similar to that seen in the Philip, Berry Hill, Soule and Hever portraits.  This may suggest that there was some sort of full-frontal pattern produced of the young Queen which may have been the initial source for these representations during the early part of her reign.

It is my theory that the Clopton portrait type did, in fact, evolve from an earlier image depicting the young Princess Elizabeth, placed full-frontal like that seen in the Berry-Hill, Soule and Hever portrait’s.  The Philip portrait appears to sit directly in the middle of both the Berry-Hill and Clopton portraits, and it could be argued that Clopton portrait was an altered version of the Philip portrait.  The x-ray of Philip Mould’s copy, which shows a slightly altered full-frontal version beneath the painted surface only strengthens this claim.

It may also be possible that the Philip portrait was in turn a ‘pimped up’ version of the Berry-Hill portrait, created by an artist from an early portrait, possibly taken when Elizabeth was still Princess, to make Elizabeth look more regal due to a lack of access to the new Queen and a high demand for her image. If indeed all the sitters in the Berry-Hill, Soule and Hever portrait are the same individual then this would most defiantly tip the scales towards them all depicting Elizabeth.  It could also be argued that 1563 proclamation refers to the Philip and Berry-Hill type rather the Clopton pattern. If Stephan Edwards theory is correct, and the Berry-Hill portrait is the earliest example then there does appear to be a dramatic decline in artistic detail with the subsequent later copies. The 1563 proclamation may possibly be the reason why so fewer copies exist of the full-frontal pattern.  Further research and discussion is most definitely needed into this small group of portraits to identify once and for all if there is any possible connection to Queen Elizabeth and the true identity of the sitter in the Berry-Hill portrait.


[1] Philip. Richard, De-frocking a Flapper Girl, De-Frocking a Flapper Girl | Richard Philp, accesses June 2021

[2] Christie’s Auction Catalouge, Friday March 23rd 1979, lot 155, page 103

[3] Philip. Richard, De-frocking a Flapper Girl, De-Frocking a Flapper Girl | Richard Philp, accesses June 2021

[4] The Philip Portrait first appeared at Christie’s auction in March of 1979. It was subsequently sold again by Sotheby’s in December 2008.  Both catalogues for the sales list similarities between the Philip Portrait and other early iconography of Queen Elizabeth I.

[5]Arnold. Janet, The Coronation Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, The Burlington Magazine, Vol.120, No. 908, Page 727. See also Golding. Elizabeth, Nicholas Hilliard Life of An Artist, Yale University Press, 2019, Page :244-247

[6] O’Donoghue. Freeman, A Descriptive and Classified Catalogue of Portraits of Queen Elizabeth, Dryden Press, 1894, Page ix-x

[7] NPG 4449; Queen Elizabeth I – conservation research – National Portrait Gallery, accessed July 2021

[8] Grosvenor. Bendor, Philip Mould Fine Paintings Catalogue, London 2010

[9] Edwards. John Stephan, A Queen of a New Invention The Portraits of Lady Jane Grey/Dudley, old John Publishing, Page: 157-167

[10] Edwards. John Stephan, A Queen of a New Invention The Portraits of Lady Jane Grey/Dudley, old John Publishing, Page: 157-167

[11] Strong. Roy, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth, Oxford Press, 1963, Page: 53-54

The Paine Miniature – Is it Elizabeth?

Portrait of an Unknown Lady

Introduction:

In May 2021, I came across an image of a rather intriguing sixteenth century miniature portrait hidden away in an auction catalogue dated to 1979.  On seeing the image, the painting immediately sparked my interest, firstly, because I had not seen the image before and secondly, because my immediate thought was that the draughtsmanship showed some similarities to the work thought to have been produced by court miniaturist Levina Teerlinc.

Thanks to the use of social media, I was very quickly able to track down the current owner of a similar portrait. With the information I had already gathered, it was quickly established that this was indeed the same miniature photographed and sold in 1979. I was then provided with some high-resolution colour images of the miniature and further information about its modern-day provenance.   

This article intends to document and examine the information already known about this miniature portrait.  I will also attempt to establish if there is any possible connection between this miniature and the famous sixteenth century artist Levina Teerlinc.  I will also attempt to establish if there is any possible connection between the sitter depicted and other iconography related to Queen Elizabeth I.     

A picture containing text, gear

Description automatically generated
The Paine Miniature Portrait
Oil on Card
6.5 Centimetres
Unknown Artist
©Private Collection

Description:

The portrait is painted with the use of oil on card and is 6.5 centimetres in diameter. Its format is circular, and the sitter is depicted in three-quarter length facing the viewers left.  Placed before a plain grey background, she has light auburn hair that is parted in the middle, brown eyes, and a small mouth.  On her head she wears what appears to be a white coif cap. Her costume is made up of a black loose gown trimmed with white fur and a fur collar.  Fur is also seen at the top of the sleeve heads and down the front of the gown.  Both hands are seen in the image and the sitter has her right hand tucked into the front opening of her gown.  A small ruffle, embellished with blackwork stitching is visible at the sitter’s neck and wrists and a gold ring with a large emerald suspended from a black ribbon around her neck. A gold boarder has also been added to the outer edge of the portrait.

Inscription:

Detail Image Showing Hands & Ring

A Memento Mori or skull is depicted on right-hand side of the miniature with the wording: AHI MORTE TU TOGLI & NUNQUA RENDI TU PRESTI & MAINON PAGHI placed vertically along the side of the sitter.

‘Remember you have to die’, is the rough translation for the Latin word Memento Mori. The symbolic use of the skull, rotten fruit or sometimes a butterfly have been used throughout history to remind viewers that death is inevitable.  These symbols became popular in the first half of the sixteenth century and were used in portraiture, jewellery, and illustrations. Today, the image of a skull reminds the modern viewer of danger or a rather morbid obsession with death.  However, in the sixteenth century the image of a skull was used as a polite reminder to live life to the full and that death unites everyone as it is the one thing human beings are guaranteed in life.

The inscription seen on the miniature is complex, and in all honesty my languages are not excellent. It appears to be Italian, and roughly translated to ‘Alas death you take away & you never lend & you never pay’, which is again another reminder to the viewer that death will come someday.

Detail Image Showing Inscription

Provenance:

The portrait first appears in the auction catalogue as part of the sale of the Edward Grosvenor Paine collection of portrait miniature. Paine was born in Louisiana in 1911 and worked within the fashion industry across the globe.  With keen interest in antiques, he eventually became a dealer in the 1950’s, specialising in porcelain and portrait miniatures. Settling at his family estate of Primrose Plantation, Oxford, Mississippi, Paine travelled the globe and acquired a large collection of portrait miniatures.  Prior to his death in 1994, he began to sell some of his large personal collection and several auctions facilitated by Christie’s Auction House, London were held with the remainder of the collection being sold after his death.

The auction of the Paine miniature took place on October 23rd, 1979 and for the purpose of this sale, the portrait is described in the catalogue as ‘An early Miniature of a Lady, English School, circa 1570.’ Unfortunately, no information regarding the portrait’s provenance prior to 1979 is listed among the details in the catalogue.  As stated above, Paine was known to travel the globe in search of acquiring portraits for his own personal collection and unless documentation surfaces to establish more information about the early provenance then this may never be fully known.  No artist association is listed however, the auction house does refer to its possible place of origin as English School.[1]

The miniature portrait was purchased by an unknown collector from the 1979 sale, and it remained in a private collection in the USA.  It appeared at auction again in 1999, when it was sold by Sotheby’s, New York on December 15th.  Once again, the portrait was simply described as ‘A Miniature of a Lady, English School, circa 1555’ with its provenance listed as the ‘Paine collection’. The portrait was purchased by its current owner and it again remains in a private collection.

Thoughts:

I do understand that it is a little bit unethical to jump to conclusions when undergoing portrait research, however I do believe that sharing ideas and taking time to listen to the views of others is very important.  One of the main reasons why I opted to write this article is that one thing stands out to me. When first having sight of the Paine miniature I noted some similarities in draughtsmanship with the small amount of work attributed to the famous sixteenth century artist Levina Teerlinc. 

Born around 1510, Teerlinc was the daughter of the famous Flemish illustrator Simon Benninck.  Probably taught to paint by her father, by 1546, she was married to George Teerlinc, and living and working in England.  Teerlinc was granted a salary of forty pounds a year by Henry VIII, and it is documented that she worked for the English Crown until her death in 1576.[2]

When it comes to identifying her work, Teerlinc is a bit of a puzzle.  Although she is one of the more well documented artists of the sixteenth century in terms of payment, lists of work and entries in household accounts, no miniature portrait containing her signature has survived today.

In July 1983, a small number of miniature portraits were grouped together for the first time and associated with Teerlinc.  These paintings were exhibited as part of the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. All portraits were painted between 1546-1576, or during the period between the deaths of previous court miniaturists Hans Holbein and Lucas Hornebolte in the 1540’s and the rise of Nicholas Hillard in the 1570’s.  In 1983, all the images were thought to have been produced by the same artists and as stated above it was suggested at that time that this artist could only have been Levina Teerlinc.[3]

All the miniatures do show some similarities in draughtsmanship; The sitters are commonly depicted with having rather large heads and stick-like arms, and some similarities in the brushwork was also noted, including the use of loose wash work to create the features. 

Some of the similarities in draughtsmanship noted in the work associated with Teerlinc are also visible in the Paine miniature, particularly within the figure depicted.  Again, the figure can be seen with the characteristic large head and stick-like arms and some similarities are also noted within the brushwork used on the face and hands. One major sticking point is that the background and materials used to create the Paine miniature appears to be totally inconsistent with the other works thought to be by Teerlinc. All work currently associated with her are painted with the use of watercolour or gouache on vellum and all have the characteristic plain blue background. As discussed in the description section of this article, the Paine miniature’s background appears to have been made up of a grey pigment and according to auction descriptions the entire miniature is created with the use of oil on card.

George Teerlinc is recorded as receiving the sum of ten pounds from the Privy Council in the October of 1551 for ‘being sent with his wife to the Lady Elizabeth’s Grace to draw out her picture.’  It is generally thought Levina completed the portrait however the payment was made to George as he was her husband.  Much debate has taken place as to the identity of this supposed 1551 miniature however, no confirmed miniature portrait depicting the Princess Elizabeth and associated with Teerlinc has, yet, been located. [4] 

This may just be pure coincidence, but I do see some similarities between the sitter depicted in the Paine miniature and the depiction of Princess Elizabeth in the family portrait at Boughton House.

The Boughton House Family Portrait
oil on panel
© Duke of Buccleuch
Francesco Bartolozzi Engraving
Eighteenth Century

In brief, The Boughton House portrait resurfaced in 2008, when it was rediscovered by historians Tracy Borman and Alison Weir, hanging in the private collection of the Duke of Buccleuch.

The painting itself was exhibited in the Tudor Exhibition of 1890, and appeared in Freeman O’Donoghue’s ‘Descriptive and Classified Catalogue of Portraits of Queen Elizabeth published in 1894.  Francesco Bartolozzi, an eighteenth-century engraver was also known to have produced an engraved version, either based on the Boughton House portrait or a similar copy.  O’Donoghue listed the Boughton House portrait as ‘not Contemporary’ and this was also reinforced during the rediscovery when an estimated date of creation was given as circa 1650-1680.

In 2008, comparisons were immediately made between the image of Princess Elizabeth in the Boughton House portrait and NPG 764, the Syon and Berry-Hill portraits, previously associated with Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth.  A conclusion was made that since the other sitters depicted in the Boughton Portrait were based on known portrait types then the image of Elizabeth must have been based on one of these portraits, thus confirming the sitter once and for all in NPG 764, the Syon and Berry-Hill Portrait as Elizabeth when Princess.[5]

When compared side-by side to the Boughton House Portrait and the Subsequent Bartolozzi engraving, the Pain Miniature again shows similarities in costume and composition.  The sitter appears to be wearing an almost identical gown with the white fur collar and ruffle, also, similar white fitted sleeves with the distinctive pleating are seen within all three images.  The sitter is also depicted with the right hand placed into the front opening of the gown in all three images.

The hood worn by the sitter in the Paine miniature is depicted differently in both the Boughton Portrait and Bartolozzi engraving, and the ring suspended from the black ribbon is also missing in the later images.   One possible explanation for this is that the depiction of Elizabeth in the Boughton House portrait was in fact based on a modified copy of an original image.  A recently discovered image of a rather interesting sixteenth century drawing located by myself in the Witt Library, London may give us one final clue.

A picture containing text, building material, stone

Description automatically generated
Unknown Lady
(Possibly Elizabeth I)
Follower of Francois Clouet
Black & Red Chalk
© Witt Library, London
A picture containing ground

Description automatically generated
Detail Image Showing Ring & Ribbon

This image above, was stored among a large number of sold images previously associated with the French artist Francios Clouet.  The drawing shows a female sitter, facing the viewers left and again wearing a similar loose gown and ruffle to that seen in the Paine miniature.  In this image the sitter is also depicted as wearing a ring containing a stone suspended from a ribbon around her neck, once again these features are mimicking what is seen in the Paine miniature.

Interestingly, the drawing does contain an inscription in French noting the sitter as La Royne D’Angleterre suggesting that the lady depicted was royal and English. The drawing was sold in 1983 and was described as ‘said to be a portrait of Queen Mary Tudor’.  Since no other image matching this drawing and described as Mary has surfaced it could be possible that the auction house may have recorded this as the wrong sister and that this drawing is in fact a drawing of a portrait of Elizabeth. It may just be possible that this drawing was taken from a pre-existing portrait that was used by artists when creating subsequent copies and as other copies were made some of the finer details were lost.   

In conclusion, the Paine miniature has raised some very interesting questions.  Unfortunately, these questions cannot be easily answered without using some scientific investigations on the miniature itself.  As discussed above, their does appear to be some similarities between the Paine miniature and other works associated with Teerlinc, however these are not totally conclusive.  Also, the fact that Teerlinc’s 1551 miniature of Elizabeth when princess is now lost, and that the Paine miniature has similarities to other works associated with Elizabeth just adds that extra bit of excitement leaving, us, the viewer, more curious for further information.


[1] Christie’s Auction, October 23rd, 1979, The Edward Grosvenor Paine Collection of Portrait Miniatures, Page:19

[2] Strong. Roy, The English Renaissance Miniature, Thames and Hudson, 1983, page 54

[3] Strong. Roy, Artists of the Tudor Court, The Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620, Thames and Hudson, 1983, page 52

[4] Strong. Roy, Gloriana The Portrait of Queen Elizabeth, Pimlico 2003, page 52

[5] BBC History Magazine, A New Face for The Virgin Queen, June 2008, Page 46-49


Anne Boleyn – NPG 668

Anne Boleyn
NPG 668
Oil on Oak Panel
21 3/8 x 16 3/8 inches
©The National Portrait Gallery

NPG 668 is arguably the most famous portrait of Anne Boleyn that derives from the B Pattern.  Once acquired by The National Portrait Gallery, London this image has continuously been reproduced in books, magazines, movies and even on the occasional t-towel and cushion.  This portrait has become an icon in its own right, to many individuals across the globe, it has become a symbol of British history.

During my last visit to the National Portrait Gallery, I spent approximately forty-five minutes stood in front of NPG 688, listening, and observing what other visitors had to say about the image.  It was only during this visit that I first became aware of the power the painting appears to hold over people.  NPG 668 as an historical artifact is a bit of an enigma, a view into the past that inspires debate which, as yet, has not been truly resolved.  Some believe that the portrait depicts the true identity of one of King Henry VIII’s most famous queens, whilst others were noted to discuss the fact that no known portrait of Anne exists and that this particular copy was painted after her death, so therefore must be a made up image and cannot be relied on.  The National Portrait Gallery themselves note that the portrait was ‘based on a work of circa 1533-1536, when Anne was Queen’, however have produced little documentary evidence to back this theory up.[1] 

Object Description:

The painting is executed in oil on a wooden panel.  Two vertical panels have been used to construct the support on which the image is painted on and the portrait measures in whole 21 3/8 x 16 3/8 inches.   The painting depicts the head and torso of an adult female who appears before a plain green background.  She is turned slightly to the viewers left, though her eyes engage the viewer directly.  Her face is oval in shape, with a high forehead.  Her hair is brown in colour, appears straight, and is worn parted in the centre of the crown and pulled back over her ears and under her headwear.  Her eyes are brown in colour and her eyebrows are thin and arched.  The nose is straight with a high bridge and her lips are small and thin. 

The sitter’s costume includes a French hood, ending just below the jawline.  This is constructed with the use of black fabric that includes the use of an upper and lower billiment of pearls.  A black veil is also seen hanging down at the back and under this the sitter wears a gold coif.  At her neck she wears two strings of pearls with a large letter B pendant of goldsmith work and three hanging pearls suspended from the upper necklace.  A gold chain is also seen at the neck, that falls and disappears into the front of the sitter’s bodice.  The gown itself is constructed of a black fabric, cut squared at the neck and a chemise, embroidered with blackwork protrudes along the entire bodice margin. Large brown fur sleeves can be seen at the bottom edge of the panel.  

An inscription across the top of the panel identifies the sitter as ANNA BOLINA VXOR HENRI. OCTA otherwise translated Anna Bolina, wife of Henry 8.  The inscription has been heavily restored over the course of time and the first two letter of ‘Anna’ have been entirely repainted when a twenty-centimetre addition was added to the left-hand side of the panel.

Recent photographs showing the reverse of the painting indicate that there are no labels or other inscriptions located on the back of the panel surface. During conservation work on the portrait in 1967, it was identified that the surface of the wooden panel had been thinned down at some point during its history and any inscription would have been removed during this process.[2]

Artist Attribution:

Documented as unknown English Artist.

Provenance:

Little information is known regarding the portrait’s early provenance. It was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in 1882, from the Reynolds Gallery.  No information concerning the portraits provenance prior to the sale was provided and no other information regarding the history of this painting has been located during modern research. The portrait has been on public display at the National Portrait Gallery since its purchase and has only briefly left its walls to undergo conservation work or to be included in other temporary exhibitions across the globe.

Discussion:

This portrait, of all the others associated with the B Pattern has certainly been subject to the most scientific investigation.  Museums and galleries around the world can use several techniques on a painting to identify information such as date of creation, origin and the techniques and sequencing used by the artist to create it.  Several of these techniques have taken place on NPG 668 and a large amount of information has already been documented regarding the gallery’s findings. Due to the fact that of all the paintings associated with the B-Pattern, NPG 668 is the portrait that has undergone the most scientific investigations I have opted to take a fresh look at what we know about this portrait, so far.  

As highlighted above, the portrait was examined in 1967, where it was noted to be in a rather bad state of preservation.  An early photographic image taken of the portrait during this period identifies that the panel surface contained a large vertical crack down the right-hand side. [3]

NPG 668 Prior to 1967
© National Portrait Gallery

This is not uncommon in portraits that have a history of approximately four hundred and fifty years behind them.  The damp climate of the British Isles has taken its toll on many of our historical images painted on wood.  Most have succumbed to clumsy restoration techniques of past generations; structural renovations, overpainting, excessive cleaning and often the panel surface itself has expanded and contracted during time which results in the paint layers becoming weakened. Today, very few portraits painted on a wooden support cannot be described as being in an immaculate state of preservation. 

In an attempt to strengthen the fragile panel of NPG 668, a cradle support was added to the back of the panel surface in 1967.  During a recent examination of the panel as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s ‘Making Art in Tudor Britain’ project, it was established that the cradle added was now having a dramatic impact on the portraits condition.  

A fundraising campaign was established by the gallery to help raise the money to stabilise the historic portrait and due to the generosity of public donor’s, conservation work began in the autumn of 2011.[4]  The cradle was removed from the back of the panel allowing the portrait to sit in its natural warped position.  Splits in the panel surface were secured and filled with a conservation adhesive and filler.  A specially designed frame was also constructed to allow the portrait to sit in its natural position when exhibited to enable the public to view the portrait without causing further damage to its support.

Due to the removal of the wooden cradle, dendrochronological testing took place on the portrait in 2012. A previous attempt had been made in 2010, however, the thick wooden cradle attached to the back of the panel made this awkward to complete and an accurate date was unable to be obtained.  On completion of the 2012 tests, it was established that NPG 668 was painted no earlier than 1584, confirming the theory that this copy was indeed a later copy and was probably produced as part of a larger set of paintings.[5]  

NPG 668 has also undergone x-radiography and infrared reflectography.  Both these techniques are used by The National Portrait Gallery to see under the painted surface, identify possible changes in composition and reveal underdrawings produced by the artist prior to the painting process.  Images taken during the infrared reflectography show the B Pattern in all its glory. It was established that the artist who created NPG 668 used a pattern to transferer a pre-existing image of Anne onto the panel prior to painting the portrait.  The graphite under drawing can clearly be seen in the image below and this closely follows the painted outline of the subsequent layers.   Some minor adjustments to the outline of the sitter’s face and shoulders have been made during the painting process however the physical features of the sitter’s face have been followed exactly.

Infrared Reflectography Image of NPG 668
©National Portrait Gallery

To truly understand the demand for Anne’s image and the evolution and use of the B Pattern we first need to understand the complex matter of portrait sets within Tudor England. 

A large amount of information has been written over the course of time regarding sixteenth century art and the production of portraits by some of the more famous artists working within the Royal court and across Tudor England. However, very little information has been documented regarding some of the lesser-known artists who produced portraits sets on a large scale to meet the public demand for imagery.

One main reason for this lack of information is that very little is known and therefore not documented about some of the lesser-known artists and the work produced by them. In the past, most portrait sets produced by some of these lesser-known artists have unfortunately been branded as poor quality with little historical significance.  Museums and galleries around the world have only recently started to take these portraits seriously and use modern technology to truly understand some of the works of art created on a mass scale to fulfil a high demand from Tudor society.

The wooden panel portraiture created in Tudor England that we view today in galleries and country houses across the globe formed a small part of the visual artifacts viewed by the men and women who lived in sixteenth century England.  Houses of the rich and elite members of society were filled with tapestries, painted cloths, and furnishings depicting imagery of some kind.  Clothes, books, and jewellery also became more prominent during the sixteenth century and were also filled with images of significance to the individual who may have commissioned them.  The use and demand for visual imagery did not only exist within domestic settings but town halls, schools and colleges across England were filled with portrait images of political and state figures from history and reformers of the protestant faith.  Art was not only used for decoration purposes but could also be used to demonstrate an individual’s commitment to a specific cause.

From the beginning of the sixteenth century there appears to have been a keen interest for information concerning historical events from the past.  Several plays, ballads, pamphlets, and published works were created throughout this century documenting the stories of either historical royal figures or famous contemporary individuals who had made their mark on history.  With this also came the demand for images of some of the figures promoted.[6]

One of the earliest examples of historical printed text from the sixteenth century is Robert Fabyan’s The New Chronicles of England and France. This book details events from the legendary arrival of Brutus of Troy to the death of King Henry VII and was first published in 1516. The book was subsequently republished in 1533, 1542 and 1559 demonstrating the high demand for the subject. In 1563, John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments was first published in England detailing the stories of men and women from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century who were martyred for their faith. [7]

By the end of the sixteenth century and beginning of the seventeenth century plays about historical figures such as those written by William Shakespeare, were being staged in both the Royal Court and playhouses.   Books containing engraved portraits of historical figures started to appear and in 1597 Thomas Tablot’s “Booke Containing the True Portraiture of the Kings of England” was printed followed by Henry Holland’s “Baziliologia” in 1618 and his “Herowlogia Anglica” two years later.  All three books contained many engraved images of Kings, Queens, and prominent figures from the sixteenth century which had been claimed by the authors to be based on authentic likenesses.[8]

Holland’s “Baziliologia” did contain an engraved portrait depicting Anne Boleyn, however this was not based on the B-Pattern which would have been a relatively common image by 1618 and much debate has taken place over the authenticity of this image.  The “Baziliologia” engraving of Anne does look remarkably similar to a depiction of Jane Seymore from the Whitehall mural, by Hans Holbein.  Several other engravings produced in Holland’s book’s such as the well-known Van da Passe engraving of Lady Jane Grey have also now been proven to be based on portraits of other sitters, so we do need to air on the side of caution when it comes to this particular engraving of Anne.

Portrait sets depicting Kings and Queens of England survive today, however the majority have been broken up and only a small amount survive in some sort of entirety.  Anne Boleyn was generally one of three of King Henry VIII’s queens depicted within sets of English monarchs and their consorts along with Katherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour. These three wives were included in the sets because they all produced a child during their marriage and therefore a future monarch.  Anne herself was Queen Mother to the reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth I and although Anne’s marriage was never officially legitimised during the reign of her daughter her image was often included within portrait sets and Elizabeth herself, does appear to have acknowledged both her parents within her own iconography during her long reign.

Many portraits depicting Anne which where once part of a larger set and derive from what I refer to as the B Pattern, survive in public and private collections around the world.  Today, those that have been published and are well known to us have often been grouped together and referred to as “posthumous” dating to “the later period of the sixteenth century”[9]  

When creating portrait sets, artists appear to have gone to every effort in attempts to locate written descriptions, previous portraits, illustrations, and effigies to support them to create panel portraits of individuals both past and present.  We know for example that the many later portrait patterns depicting Elizabeth of York was based on another painting which was probably painted from life currently held in the Royal Collection.

Elizabeth of York
RCIN 403447
Oil on Panel
© Royal Collection Trust

Initially, the Royal Collection portrait was thought to date to the late sixteenth century, however current research has identified that this portrait may have been painted in the late fifteenth century.[10] Subsequent copies of this portrait indicate that a pattern was created and used by workshops when producing further copies.  A large majority of the surviving copies all show the same characteristics, brown eyes, light red hair, pale complexion, and a red gown with ermine trim. This suggest that the patterns created also contained notes or visual reminders for the artists of how the final portrait should be finished, much like the provisional drawings produced by Hans Holbein for some of his major works.

One perfect example of an early portraits set is a small group of portraits again held within the royal collection.  These painting’s depict King Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III and all are of similar format and size and include the characteristic red demask background.

Initially, as seen with the portrait of Elizabeth of York these painting’s where again thought to date to the latter half of the sixteenth century.  Recent dendrochronology testing has identified that all three paintings were actually constructed from the same tree which was cut down no earlier than 1504.  This once again demonstrates the importance of modern technology within the world of art history and the possibility that some of the portraits created for the use of sets could date to an earlier period than initially thought.[11]

When looking at the surviving portraits depicting Anne Boleyn, two specific portrait patterns begin to emerge. The first is the bust length pattern seen in NPG 668, NGI.549 and the Rosse Portrait.

The second is a pattern that has been slightly extended to incorporate Anne’s hands and a rose which can be seen in the alternative version on display at Hever Castle, the Radclyffe portrait and the Shindler portrait.  Multiple copies of both patterns survive today, however paintings derived from the second pattern appears to be scarcer than that of the first.

Only a small amount of the portraits depicting Anne have undergone dendrochnology testing to establish an accurate date of creation.  Some can easily be dismissed as later copies, produced during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  A large proportion of the portraits depicting Anne remain untested which makes it difficult to determine what order of dates each portrait was produced and the possibility that one of the portraits may be an earlier copy possibly painted from life.

Unfortunately, to date, I have been unable to locate any written documentation relating to the production of a portrait of Anne Boleyn during her actual lifetime. There does appear to be a number of sixteenth century references regarding the use and collection of her image after her death.  Unfortunately, these references are vague, and it is hard to distinguish if any of these portraits were in fact an authentic image or one of the many portraits based on the B pattern that where apparently created at a later period.

The first reference to an image of Anne dates from 1559, and is taken from several written descriptions regarding the events that took place during the coronation of Anne’s daughter Queen Elizabeth I.  All descriptions refer to a large stage being built and used as part of the pageant at the upper end of Gracechurch Street.  It appears that this stage was designed to represent Queen Elizabeth I’s lineage and not only included an image of her royal grandparents King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York but also an image representing her father and mother King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.  Unfortunately, these descriptions provide little detail as to what the images of the figures looked like, however, they do provide evidence that there was, at least, a recognisable image of Anne in 1559.[12]

The second reference is taken from 1577 and is listed within an inventory of the possessions of Archbishop Matthew Parker at the time of his death at Lambeth Palace.  The inventory lists thousands of items within the palace including a portrait of “Quene Anne Bolleyn” displayed in the gallery. Matthew Parker was in fact Anne’s personal Chaplain and it would be difficult to believe that an individual who was such a close associate of Anne would have owned a portrait that was not a reasonable likeness of her.[13] 

The third and probably most famous reference comes from a collection of inventories documenting the extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, furniture, and books collected by the 1st Baron of Lumley (John Lumley 1533-1609).  Lumley’s collection consisted of over one hundred and ninety portraits scattered across his residences of Lumley Castle, Nonsuch Palace and Harts Street. His walls were not only hung with paintings of family members, but portraits of royals and nobilities demonstrating a list of who’s who, in England.  In an inventory made in 1590 there is a reference to a portrait of “Queen Anne Bulleyne.” As the portrait is listed among other portraits described as “Statuary” we may then presume that the painting was in fact full-length as portraits of half-length or small in size are referred to as “scantling.”[14]  Upon John Lumley’s death some of his collection passed to his nephew Thomas Howard Earl of Arundel though the vast amount remained at Lumley Castle were the collection eventually passed to the Earls of Scarborough.  Some of the collection was subsequently sold through auction in 1785 and 1807, however no portrait of Anne Boleyn is listed among the entries for either auction, and this particular portrait remains lost today.[15]

As this article demonstrates the use of modern technology is now answering some of the unanswered questions regarding the production and use of portrait sets from Tudor England.  We are now finally starting to get a good understanding of the techniques and processes used to create these images. From the references discussed above regarding the use of Anne’s image we can see that there was at least some sort of recognisable image of Anne Boleyn used from 1557 onwards.   It would certainly be of high interest to locate all surviving examples of the B Pattern and have them undergo some of the testing which has taken place on NPG 668.  Modern science will enable us to identify once and for all what order these images came in and if there is any possibility that one may be a life portrait.   


[1] The National Portrait Gallery, https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw00142/Anne-Boleyn?LinkID=mp00109&search=sas&sText=anne+boleyn&role=sit&rNo=0 accessed September 2020

[2] Heinz Archive, London, Object File NPG668. Further information on conservation assessment and treatment which has taken place on this portrait can be located in this file.

[3] My sincere thanks to Roland Hui for providing me with a copy of this image.

[4] https://www.npg.org.uk/research/programmes/making-art-in-tudor-britain/case-studies/conservation-treatment-of-a-portrait-of-anne-boleyn accessed September 2020

[5] Heinz Archive, London, Object File NPG668

[6] For further information see: Woolf. Daniel, R, The circulation of the Past: England’s Historical Culture 1500-1730, Oxford University Press, 2003

[7] Ellis. Henry, The New Chronicles of England and France in Two Parts by Robert Fabyan, London, 1811 page: xiii–xviii

[8]Hind M Arthur, Engravings in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, 1955

[9] Mould. Philip LTD, Lost Faces Identity and Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture,2007, Page. 59

[10] Tyers. Ian, Tree-ring Analysis of Panel Painting from the Ryal Collection, Dendrochronology Consultancy Ltd, January 2013

[11] Tyers. Ian, Tree-ring Analysis of Panel Painting from the Ryal Collection, Dendrochronology Consultancy Ltd, January 2013

[12] I am grateful for the fantastic research into these descriptions produced and published by Natalie Grueninger at Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I’s Coronation (onthetudortrail.com), accessed January 2021

[13] Archaeologia of Miscellaneous Tracts, Society of Antiquaries of London, 1844, Vol XXX, Page. 11

[14] Walpole Society, Vol I, 1918, Page.21

[15]The Getty provenance database,  http://piprod.getty.edu/starweb/pi/servlet.starweb

The Twitter Portrait – Is It Lady Jane Grey?

In the autumn of 2020, a rather interesting photographic image of a portrait appeared on social media.  The photograph was originally posted as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey on the website of the restoration company Fine Art Conservation, Columbia.  Sadly, the actual image did not show the portrait in its entirety but was a detailed shot showing the neck and chin area of the sitter before and after restoration work had taken place.[1]

Detail Image
Before and After Restoration
©Fine Arts Conservation, Columbia

On seeing this image, I instantly became intrigued:  firstly, because this was a portrait that had gone unnoticed by myself and others who have studied the iconography of Lady Jane Grey. Secondly, because the brief glimpse that we had been given initially filled me with a little hope that this painting may indeed be an authentic likeness or one of the many lost portrait that have been associated with Jane in the past.  

I immediately contacted the restoration company and requested further information and a photographic image of the full portrait.  The company responded quickly and informed me that due to client confidentiality they were unfortunately unable to fulfil my request.

Thankfully, I did not have to wait long before an image of the full portrait appeared on the social networking site Twitter.  The tweet displayed an image of the painting in its unrestored state and reported that the portrait had been associated with the sixteenth century artist William Scrots. The writer also raised questions as to who the sitter in this painting could possibly be.  It was very quickly identified that the portrait posted on Twitter matched the portrait displayed on the Restoration company’s website claiming to depict Lady Jane Grey.

Unknown Lady
Oil on Oval Panel
22 1/6 x 17 1/8 inches
©Private Collection

As seen from the image of the portrait it depicts a female, painted above the waist, before a plain dark background.  The sitter is facing the viewer’s left and has brown eyes and a rather large flat nose.  Her hair is brown in colour and is parted in the centre.  On her head she wears a French hood of white fabric over a coif cap.  The hood is constructed with both upper and lower billiaments of goldsmith work and a black veil is also seen hanging down behind the sitter.  Her costume is constructed of a plain black fabric and the bodice of her dress is cut square at the neckline.  Under this, the sitter wears a high-necked chemise of a white fine fabric, with a small frill at the collar.  The chemise has been embroidered with the use of gold and black thread.  Around her neck, she wears a long gold chain that hangs down the front of her bodice and an open partlet with a convex edge is worn over the shoulders.    

So, the question is, could this portrait possibly depict Lady Jane Grey? My initial thought was that the Twitter portrait could possibly be one of the lost portraits supposed to depict Lady Jane Grey.  One particular portrait that has not yet, been located is known as the Handford Portrait.  This was exhibited in the Old Masters Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1880.  A detailed description of the Handford portrait is provided in the catalogue for the exhibition and identifies that the sitter does indeed wears a ‘black dress trimmed with gold and a gold chain around her neck’.  The description of the Handford portrait also refers to ‘a gold chain at the waist and the hands clasped in front’.  Since the girdle chain and sitter’s hands are mentioned in this description and do not appear in the Twitter portrait, we must then presume that the Twitter portrait is a separate painting altogether.[2]

When it comes to the iconography of Lady Jane Grey I am always a little sceptical with just accepting an individual’s word that a portrait does in fact depict her. We have seen with many other portrait’s associated as depicting her that the majority have turned out to be doubtful and have only been associated with Jane Grey due to the high public demand for her image and a possible connection in the symbolism or the plain costume depicted.

To attempt to establish if there is any possible connection to Jane Grey, I feel we need to look at the provenance connected to the Twitter portrait. Due to the events of 2020, I have had limited access to the archives, galleries and museums that may hold some of this information.  The first written documentation I have located for this painting is an auction catalogue from 1989.  The portrait was sold on 14th April at Christie’s Auction House London and appeared as lot number 98 in the sale.  The catalogue lists the portrait as an ‘unknown lady’ and associates its creator to William Scrots.  There is no record of the portrait’s provenance or any previous association with Lady Jane Grey discussed as part of the description for this lot.

The catalogue description does mention that ‘Sir Roy Strong attributes this portrait to the same hand as that of the portraits of King Edward VI and Princess Elizabeth in the Royal Collection’. Christie’s reference Roy Strong’s book The English Icon Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture, published in 1969 as the source of their information.[3]

Edward VI
Associated with William Scrots
©Royal Collection
Elizabeth When Princess
Associated with William Scrots
©Royal Collection

William Scrots did indeed work at the English Royal court and records detailing payments for his service can be traced up until the death of King Edward VI. It is not exactly known what happened to him after 1553, however, it is traditionally thought that he left England or died. [4]

As stated in the auction catalogue, the two portraits held in the Royal Collection are associated with the hand of William Scrots.  Both portraits, appear to be of a finer quality and contain remarkable detail in the facial features and costumes than that seen in the Twitter portrait. If Sir Roy Strong did indeed come to the conclusion that the Twitter portrait was also by the same hand, then it is hard to see how. It also appears that the auction house may have their sources muddled slightly, as there is no mention of the Twitter portrait or its association with William Scrots in Roy Strong’s book The English Icon.   From the Price list detailing the items sold at the Christie’s sale, the Twitter portrait appears to have been unsold and it was highly likely returned to its anonymous owner.

On seeing the photographic image of the full portrait, I instantly doubted the association with William Scrots as the portrait reminded me of the work of Pieter Pourbus, an artist working in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century. The over partlet, worn around the sitter’s shoulders has the distinctive convex shape to the bottom edge and is worn open at the front and pinned to the bodice.  This is not consistent with the square, box shaped partlet’s worn closed at the front to create a fashionable V-shaped collar worn by English ladies of the 1550’s.  This style of the partlet seen in the Twitter portrait is more consistent with the style of partlets worn in the Netherlands and is depicted in many of the portraits or female sitters painted by Pieter Pourbus.

Pieter Pourbus
Portrait of a Young Women
Oil on Panel
©Public Domain
Pieter Pourbus
Portrait of Jacquemyne Buuck
©Public Domain

The Twitter portrait appears again in 2010, when it was sold as part of a sale on 7th July at Bonhams Auction House London.  The catalogue for this sale refers to the sitter once again as ‘a portrait of a Lady’, however, by 2010 the artist association had been changed from William Scrots to Netherlandish School.  Once again, this sale does not mention any previous association with Lady Jane Grey in the catalogue listing and the portrait eventually sold for £18.000.[5]

In conclusion I am unable to find any connection to Lady Jane Grey recorded in any of the documentation related to this portrait. I find it hard to believe that if the portrait had been auctioned along with documentation connecting Jane as a possible sitter then why did the auction houses not mention this in the auction details provided and merely referred to the sitter as  ‘An Unknown Lady’.

As discussed above and in my opinion, I am inclined to agree with Bonham’s Auctions that the portrait was possibly created in the Netherlands and not England. The modern provenance related to this painting suggests that the portrait was identified as Jane Grey after it was last sold in 2010 and may just be an association made by the current owner themselves.  I would be very interested to here from the current owner of this portrait in the hope that further information that may have come along with the portrait may solve this riddle once and for all. 


[1] Painting Conservation and Art Collections Management (fineartconservationsunshinecoast.ca) accessed 20.11.2020

[2] Royal Academy of Arts, Old Masters Exhibition, 1880, page 32

[3] Christie’s Auction House, Important British Pictures, Friday 14th April 1987, Page 152-153

[4] Gaunt, William. Court Painting in England. London: Constable, 1980

[5] Bonhams Auctions, Old Master Paintings, 7th July 2010, Lot 3




The Lyndhurst Portrait

Anne Boleyn
Oil on Panel
22 ½ x 17 inches
©National Trust for Historic Preservation

Object Description:

This painting is executed in oil on a wooden panel and measures in whole 22 ½ x 17 inches.   The painting depicts the head and upper torso of an adult female who appears before a plain brown background.  The sitter is placed behind a red cushion or cloth that has been embroidered with the use of gold thread.  She is turned slightly to the viewers left. 

Her face is oval, with a high forehead.  Her hair is brown in colour, appears straight, and is worn parted in the centre of the crown and pulled back over her ears and under her coif.  Her eyes are brown in colour and her eyebrows are thin and arched.  The nose is slightly arched with a high bridge and her lips are small and thin.  The use of a pink tone has been added to the sitter’s cheekbones and bridge of her nose. 

The sitter’s costume includes a French hood, ending just below the jawline.  This is constructed of black fabric that includes the use of an upper and lower billiment of pearls; thirty-four pearls can be seen in the lower billiament and forty-three pearls have been depicted on the upper billiment.  A black veil is also seen hanging down at the back of the hood and under this the sitter wears a gold coif.  At her neck she wears two strings of pearls with a large letter B pendant of goldsmith work with three hanging pearls suspended from the upper necklace.  A gold chain constructed of circular loops is also seen at the neck, which falls and disappears into the front of the sitter’s bodice.  The gown itself is constructed of a black fabric, cut square at the neck and a chemise, embroidered with blackwork protrudes along the entire bodice margin. The hint of a kirtle made of brown fabric and embellished with forty-six pearls and twenty-two buttons of goldsmith work is also seen around the neckline of the bodice.  Large brown fur sleeves can be seen at the bottom edge of the panel. 

Inscription:

An inscription applied across the top of the panel in a bright yellow pigment identifies the sitter as ANNA REGINA VXOR 2A H 8 or Anna Queen, 2nd wife of Henry 8.

Detail Showing Inscription

Labels and other inscriptions:

A typed label has been applied to the reverse of the panel which reads

 ‘1236 Portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn/ by a Netherlands Master/ of the 16th century/ Stamped seal on back reads/ [  ] chutz. [ ] Zentrelstello [ ]/ Label on back reads/ Invent No. 1236 Preis 712007/ Anne Boleyn/ Von Johennes Corvus, Eng. ad. 1520/ Gutachten Von.’

Artist Association:

The label attached to the reverse of the panel associates the Flemish born painter Johannes Corvus as the artist who created the Lyndhurst portrait.  Born in 1490, Corvus is documented as working in England in the 1520’s and in France. He died in 1545 and a small number of works associated with him are still in collections today.[1]

Condition:

From the high-resolution photograph provided, the panel support appears to be in rather good condition.  The painted surface of the portrait does have some minor paint loss to the face, costume and background and the layer of varnish has discoloured over time.  The painting sits within a frame of moulded gilt with painted geometric designs, this in turn sits within a larger frame of painted wood and red velvet.   

Provenance Information:

The Lyndhurst portrait was purchased on June 7th, 1940 by Anna Gould, Duchess of Talleyrand-Perigord from the Meredith Galleries.  A copy of the bill of sale, recording the purchase of this painting and detailing the amount paid is currently held among the documents in the Lyndhurst archive.[2] 

Anna inherited the Lyndhurst estate on the death of her sister in 1938, however only maintained the estate as a country home and opted to live primarily at a hotel in New York.  Anna died in 1961 and bequeathed the Lyndhurst estate and the portrait to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  The Lyndhurst portrait of Anne Boleyn can now be seen today in the Star Bedroom on the second floor of the house. 

Discussion:

Two potential portraits of significance to the Lyndhurst portrait of Anne Boleyn are a portrait of Catherine of Aragon recently sold by the Philip Mould Gallery and another of Jane Seymour currently held in the collection of Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco. 

Catherine of Aragon
Oil on Panel
© Private Collection
Jane Seymour
Oil on Panel
© Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco

Both these portraits appear to have once belonged to part of a larger set of paintings and stylistically both show the naive painting style seen in the Lyndhurst portrait.  All three sitters are seen in an identical composition and are placed behind the embroidered cloth and depicted in front of a plain background.  The portrait of Jane Seymour appears to have been overpainted at some point during its history, however, both paintings have been associated with the artists Johannes Corvus in the past.

All three paintings would benefit from some scientific investigation to a establish a date of creation, origin, and the possible connection that they were all created by the same artist as part of a larger set of portraits depicting King Henry VIII queens. 

A further interesting aspect of the Lyndhurst portrait is the pattern used to create it.  This appears to be almost identical to another portrait of Anne Boleyn sold by the Howard Young Galleries.  The Howard portrait is also painted on panel and is of identical measurements to the Lyndhurst portrait. Unfortunately, this copy has vanished from public record and has not been seen since it was last photographed in 1926.  

Anne Boleyn
Oil on Panel
22 ½ x 17 inches
©National Trust for Historic Preservation
Anne Boleyn
Oil on Panel
22 ½ x 17 inches
© Frick Art Reference Library, New York
Howard Young Inscription Detail
Enhanced Image of Howard Portrait Inscription showing faint letter ‘A’ above the number 2

A detailed photographic image of the Howard portrait is now held in the Frick Art Reference Library, New York.  From this image, we can see that both paintings contain an identical inscription and the composition of the sitter is also identical.  The Howard portrait does appear to have been painted by a more skilled artist than the artist who produced the Lyndhurst portrait, however, this cannot be known for certain until the Howard portrait is located. [3]

There are two possible theories to explain the similarities between both of these portraits.  The first is, that both are separate paintings, painted with the use of an identical pattern that was applied to the panel surface, by the artist, prior to painting.

The second theory is that the Lyndhurst portrait is, in fact, the Howard Portrait which had been heavily overpainted before 1926, when photographed by the Howard Young Galleries.  The photograph itself does suggest that an element of overpainting work has been completed, specifically, on the background.  As seen in the magnified image below, a thick black line can be seen between the edge of Anne’s French hood and the lighter background colour. This suggests that the original background colour of this portrait may possibly have been darker in colour and closer to that seen the Lyndhurst version.

Howard Young-Detail

It is possible that the Lyndhurst portrait may have undergone some restoration and cleaning work in an effort to return it back to its original painted surface prior to the portrait being purchased by the Meredith Gallery and subsequently selling it to Anna Gould. 

Email communication with Lyndhurst has confirmed that their portrait has not undergone any conservation work since it was bequeathed to the Trust in 1961.[4]  As discussed above, the Howard Young Portrait has vanished from public record. I have conducted a thorough search, in an attempt to locate the current whereabouts of this version, however, I have been unable to uncover any documentation concerning this portrait after 1926, when it was photographed by the gallery.

Until the lost Howard Young portrait reappears, I am currently in favour of the second theory being the most plausible one.


[1] Campbell. Gordon, The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance, Oxford University Press, 2003

[2] Email communication between the author and Specialist Project Assistant, dated 18th May 2020

[3] Frick Art Reference Library, Holbein the Younger, Hans 622-12h, accessed May 2020

[4] Email communication between the author and Specialist Project Assistant, dated 17th September 2020

The B Pattern: The Belmont Portrait

The Belmont Portrait
Anne Boleyn
Oil on Wooden Panel
20 x 14 ½ inches
©The Frick Art Reference Library, New York

The Belmont Portrait is one of the more vague and seldom seen images of Anne Boleyn based on the B Pattern.  This specific portrait is named in this study after one of its documented owners and as far as I am aware, it has never before been published, nor has it ever been exhibited in any gallery or museum. 

The portraits existence is purely known through a selection of old black and white images held in the Frick Art Reference Library, New York.  This is probably the first ever effort to study this painting and its connection to other portraits utilising the B Pattern in a scholarly manner.

Object Description:

The painting is executed in oil on a wooden panel and measures 20 x 14 ½ inches.   The portrait depicts the head and upper torso of an adult female who appears before a plain dark background.  She is turned slightly to the viewers left, though her eyes engage the viewer directly.  Her face is oval in shape, with a high forehead.  Her hair is dark in colour, appears straight, and is worn parted in the centre of the crown and pulled back over her ears and under her headwear.  Her eyes appear dark in colour and her eyebrows are thin and arched.  The nose is straight with a high bridge and her lips are small and thin. 

The sitter’s costume includes a French hood, ending just below the jawline.  This is constructed with the use of black fabric that includes the use of an upper and lower billiment of pearls.  A black veil is also seen hanging down at the back.  At her neck she wears two strings of pearls with a large letter B pendant of goldsmith work and three hanging pearls suspended from the upper necklace.  A gold chain is also seen at the neck, that falls and disappears into the front of the sitter’s bodice.  The gown itself is constructed of a dark fabric with what appears to be the hint of large fur sleeves, seen at the bottom edges of the portrait.  The upper edge of the bodice is cut squared and a chemise, embroidered with blackwork protrudes along the entire bodice margin.  

There are no identifying inscriptions readily visible on the painted surface and no photograph of the reverse of the painting is available.

Artist Attribution:

Documented as Flemish School

Provenance:

As highlighted above, very little is known regarding the early provenance for this particular portrait.  An information sheet, stored along with the old photographic images in the Frick Library does inform us that the portrait was once in the collection of a Mrs Belmont and that it was purchased form her by a Malcom Sands Wilson of New York.  It is also recorded that the old black and white photographic images of this portrait were acquired for the Frick Collection in the April of 1936 form Mrs Belmont.

Discussion:

This portrait’s current location remains unknown, at this point in time.  As far as I am aware the painting has not undergone any scientific investigation to establish a date of production or place of origin, so no precise date can be documented.  From the records held in the Frick Collection it does appear that the painting was deemed significant enough to undergo some restoration techniques.[1]  The restoration work was completed by William Hisgrove of New York in 1936 and a photographic image which was taken of the portrait before this took place clearly shows the that later overpaint, and old varnish was removed were removed during this process.  This suggests that the portrait was possibly of a significant age when the restoration work was completed.

The Belmont Portrait
Prior to Restoration Work
©The Frick Art Reference Library, New York

In my opinion, what is significant about the Belmont Portrait it that, of the many copies related to the B pattern, this, is probably the closest in comparison to the portrait in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. 

This copy, Known as NPG668, was purchased by the Gallery in 1882 and will be discussed in later part of this study.[2]  All portrait relating to the B pattern have significant differences in the finer details which are applied by the artist. Though slightly bigger in size, the facial feature seen in NPG668 are noticeably similar to those depicted in the Belmont Copy.  The blackwork design depicted on the chemise, worn under the sitter’s bodice is also depicted in an identical manner.

It is my opinion that, the Belmont portrait is of significant interest, due to it similarities to NPG668.  It would certainly be interesting if The National Portrait Gallery where able to locate the Belmont paintings current whereabouts and attempt to clarify if indeed there is any possible connection between the two portraits.      


[1]Frick Art Reference Library, New York, https://arcade.nyarc.org/record=b1512889~S1, accessed August 2020

[2] See NPG668 Object File for More information.

New Project Announcement!

Anne Boleyn: The B Pattern

Introduction:

Anne Boleyn was the second Queen of Henry VIII, she was executed in 1536, and she is arguably one of the more popular figures in Tudor history today.  Similar to Lady Jane Grey, many portraits have been associated with Anne’s name over the course of time.  None have produced the documentation to conclusively prove an identification and Anne continues to go without a portrait painted from life to this day.

One of the most famous depictions of Anne is what I refer to as the B pattern. This image has been extensively reproduced in history books when discussing Anne’s story.   The B pattern depicts a lady wearing a black French Hood and a pearl necklace with a gold letter ‘B’ hanging from it.  All surviving portraits were probably produced as part of portrait sets illustrating Kings and Queens of England, but what I find interesting about these portrait’s, is, we know so little about them.

During the latter half of the sixteenth century it had become popular for ‘portrait sets’ to be produced.  These sets were often displayed in public places, in galleries, in homes across Tudor England and in some of the royal palaces occupied by the Monarch.  Portrait sets were not only produced to document historic figures, but also demonstrated loyalty to a specific cause.  As the mother of the Reigning Monarch, Elizabeth I, Anne was often depicted within the sets as the wife of Henry VIII. 

Portrait sets were created in workshops and required a lesser skilled artist than the Great Masters who were probably commissioned to paint the original, thus making them cheaper and more accessible to the individual living in Tudor England.  An image was often derived from a standard pattern of an individual, based on an existing image, description, engraving or in some circumstances a tomb effigy.  These could be used by the workshops to quickly trace the desired image on to a wooden panel so that the portrait could be produced as quickly and effectively as possible.[1]

A small number of portraits based on the B pattern and dated to the end of sixteenth century still exist today.  Some are in public galleries whilst others remain in private collections across the world.  Most of the individual portraits depicting Anne, first appear in documentation during the turn of the twentieth century, with little known regarding there provenance prior to this.   

The B pattern was most certainly accepted as an image of Anne Boleyn during the latter half of the sixteenth century.  As for what source it was based on, in truth, we do not really know today. The purpose of this study is to look at the surviving collection of portraits depicting Anne that derive from the B pattern.  In compiling this study, I hope to establish a better understanding about the production of ‘portrait sets’, and the use of Anne’s image. I hope to Look at each portrait as an individual, in the hope of establishing some sort of database of information concerning each portrait.  Where possible I will attempt to document information relating specifically to the date and provenance of each image in the hope of ascertaining more information and identifying a possible sequence in which the portraits were painted.      


[1] For more information on the production and use of portrait sets see: Daunt. Catherine, Portraits Sets in Tudor and Jacobean England, May 2015

The Frick Portrait


Gabrielle de Rochechouart
(previously called Lady Jane Grey)
Corneille de Lyon
Oil on Panel
©The Frick Art Museum  

Another portrait which has in the past been associated with Lady Jane Grey is currently in the collection of the Frick Art Museum, Pennsylvania.  Today, the museum rightfully lists the sitter as Gabrielle de Rochechouart, Lady Lansac as there appears to be more evidence to support this identification than the sitters previous identification.

The painting depicts a lady facing the viewer’s left and painted to just above the waist. She wears a bodice of black fabric cut square at the neck with small puff sleeves, decorated with pearls.  A partlet of white fabric with a small ruffle is seen at her neck, and over her shoulders the sitter wears the fur of an animal. The sitter wears a large chain of goldsmith work around her neck and pearls and suspended from this is a large jewel containing one gemstone. Pinned to the front of her bodice is a large jewel containing three gemstones and one large hanging pearl. On her head she wears a French hood constructed with the same fabric used for her fitted sleeves. Upper and lower billiaments consisting of goldsmith work and pearls are attached to the hood, and a black veil is seen hanging down the sitters back.

Nothing is known regarding the early provenance for this portrait or how the image became identified as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey. The first record I have been able to locate regarding this portrait and its one-time association with Lady Jane Grey is an auction catalouge for a sale at Christie’s Auction House, London on 28th February 1930. The portrait was listed among the vast collection of antiques and paintings from the collection of a Barnet Lewis Esq.  Lewis died in 1929 and his collection was subsequently sold off at auction. The Frick painting is described in this catalouge as

Lot 94. Lucas De Heere, Portrait of Lady Jane Grey.

In a black dress, with yellow sleeves and jewel ornaments. Oil on panel – 6 ½ in. by 5 ¼ in.[1]

The description given in the catalouge differs from with what is seen in the portrait today. As listed above, the description states that the sitter wears yellow sleeves, however, when purchased by the current owner, it was apparent that the portrait had been heavily over painted during its history. Recent restoration work has taken place on the painting to remove the discoloured varnish and overpaint, resulting in the colour of the sitter’s sleeves being taken back to the original intended colour of pink.

The Frick Portrait
(prior to restoration)
©The Frick Art Museum  

The artist associated with the creation of the portrait, in the 1930 catalouge, is also inconsistent with the dates surrounding Jane Grey’s life. The Flemish painter Lucas de Heere (1534-1584) fled the Netherlands for England to escape religious persecution. He is first recorded in England in 1566, much later than Jane’s death in February 1554, so he is highly unlikely to have painted an authentic portrait of Lady Jane Grey.[2]

The portrait entered the Frick collection when it was purchased from the Wildenstein Galleries, New York by Helen Frick on 16th April 1931.[3]  On entering the collection, the painting was installed in the Librarian’s Office of the Frick Art Reference Library. The identification of the sitter as Lady Jane Grey was immediately challenged, and the Frick portrait was compared to another identical copy once in the collection of the Duke of Sutherland at Stafford House.

Gabrielle de Rochechouart
Corneille de Lyon
Oil on Panel
©Musee Conde

This copy had been donated in 1897 to The Musee Conde by Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale and along with other paintings from the Duke of Sutherlands collection had been associated with the Dutch artist Corneille de Lyon.

Corneille de Lyon was actively working in France from the 1530’s until his death in 1575. He was nationalised as French in 1547 and was employed as the painter to the king under Henry II and Charles IX.  Frustratingly, de Lyon did not sign or date his work, so although this artist is widely documented within sixteenth century records, very few works can be reliably associated with his hand today. [4]

The panel surface of the portrait in The Musee Conde’s collection has been extended, at a later date to include the early inscription detailing the sitters name as GABRIELE. DE. ROCHECHOART. DAME. DE. LANSAC.[5]  It was therefore decided by the curators of the Frick collection that their identical copy must also depict the same individual and not Lady Jane Grey.


[1] Christie, Manson & Woods, London. Catalogue of the Important Collection of Ancient and Modern Pictures and Water Colour Drawings: The Property of the Late Barnet Lewis, Esq, page 19

[2] Strong. Roy, Gloriana The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, Pimlico, 2003, page 71

[3] Fazio. Carl Vincent, Helen Clay Flick: Architectural Patron & Art Collector, University of Pittsburgh, 1998, page 36

[4] For the most up to date record of work associated with Corneille de Loyn see Dubois de Groer. Anne, Corneille de Lyon, Arthena, Paris, 2003

[5] Dubois de Groer. Anne, Corneille de Lyon, Arthena, Paris, 2003, Page 215

The Curious Case of Henry Grey’s Head

Until recently, I have avoided using social networking websites as I am always concerned how much personal information is, at times, unconsciously posted.  To complete the creation of my website, I once again thought I would challenge my beliefs and create an account on two of the more popular networking sites as a way of promoting my articles and to connect with people who share the same interests.

If anything, social media definitely brings people together.  During the month of February, it was nice to see how social media was used by many individuals as a way of commemorating the 466th anniversary of the execution of Lady Jane Grey, Guildford Dudley and Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk.

One post from a well-known Tudor history website sparked my memory and interest about a rather ghoulish and macabre relic with a supposed connection to Lady Jane Grey. The relic discussed was the supposed mummified head of Henry Grey discovered in the Church of Holy Trinity Minories, next to the Tower of London, during the nineteenth century.[1]

Supposed Head of Henry Grey

In a book published in 1889, Reverend Samuel Kinns tells the story that apparently Henry’s body was buried in the Chapel of St Peter after his execution.  However, his head was somehow smuggled out of the Tower and was buried in a vault at the Church of Holy Trinity Minories.

Kinns writes that Henry’s head was apparently discovered in 1851 by William Legge, 5th Earl of Dartmouth.  Legge was inspecting the vaults of his ancestors under the church, and according to reports, he discovered a basket in a small vault near the altar of the chapel.  On inspecting it, he noted that the basket was filled with sawdust, and it also contained the decapitated head of a male in a perfect state of preservation. [2]

The Church of Holy Trinity Minories was established from a nunnery that was surrendered to the Crown in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  The land and buildings were apparently given to Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk by King Edward VI in January 1552.  The nun’s chapel then became a parish church, and by 1706 the original church had fallen into disrepair and was rebuilt using brick material.  The upmost care and attention was given to keep as much of the church’s original features as possible. The church was eventually closed in 1899, and the building was eventually destroyed by bombing during World War II. [3]  

Church of Holy Trinity Minories

At thirty-six years old, Henry Grey was charged with high treason and executed on the morning of 23rd February 1554 for his involvement in Wyatt’s rebellion.  His final moments were documented in the book Chronical of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary.  This book was thought to have been written by a resident at the Tower of London at that time, and it provides a detailed description of Henry Greys actions when on the scaffold.  What is most relevant in this description is that the writer informs us that, fortunately for Henry, his head was taken off with one stroke by the executioner. The entry stops with the fatal blow of the axe, and no other written account has survived to inform us exactly what happened to his body and head after this event. [4] 

As Samuel Kinns noted in his 1898 book, it is traditionally thought that Henry’s body was buried in the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula within the walls of the Tower of London. The Chapel of St Peter was not only used as a place of worship for residents of the Tower, but it was also a place where the bodies of those accused of treason and other crimes could be buried in great obscurity and simply forgotten about.   

Due to Henry’s high birth and status, it is thought that his body was probably buried somewhere on the left-hand side of the chancel, close to the altar, alongside his daughter and son-in-law. The altar was the focal point within a church, and people of high birth were buried close to this due to Christian belief and the hierarchy of the social order.  Documentation survives to inform us that other prominent figures of high social status also executed during the sixteenth century and buried in the Chapel of St Peter were buried close to the altar. 

1886 Plan Showing Probable Burial Spot For People of High Status

During restoration work on the Chapel between 1876 and 1877, the above plan, was made using contemporary descriptions to identify the most probable place of burial for some of the Tower’s most prominent victims. Henry, Jane and Guildford where all included on the above plan but, bones discovered during the work on the altar floor were not associated with any of them.

Bones showing signs of decapitation were discovered, and every effort was made to identify the specific individuals.[5]  These bones were eventually re-buried under elaborate marbles slabs detailing the possible identifications of the individuals, and a large white marble slab was placed at the front of the Chancel listing the names of victims buried in the chapel whose remains where unfortunately not identified.

Final Design For Memorial Slabs Commemorating Individuals Buried in The Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincula

The only contemporary documented information regarding the discovery of the head I have been able to locate is a book written in 1851.   In the same year the head was apparently discovered by William Legge the books writer, Reverand Thomas Hill, notes that

in the church is placed the head, taken from the body which evidently had suffered decapitation, although it is impossible to discover now the name of its possessor.[6] 

The above quote suggests that no other information was discovered alongside the head that could be used to positively identify the male and no mention of the heads association with Henry Grey is mentioned in this book.

In 1877, the head was examined by Dr Fredrick John Mouat, the same individual who also examined the bones found in the Chapel of St Peter during the 1876 restoration. He concluded that

The head was removed by rapid decapitation during life admits of no doubt. A large gaping gash, which had not divided the subcutaneous structures, shows that the first stroke of the axe was misdirected, too near the occiput, and in a slanting direction. The second blow, a little lower down, separated the head from the trunk below the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. The retraction of the skin, the violent convulsive action of the muscles, and the formation of a cup-like cavity with the body of the spinal bone at the base, prove that the severance was effected during life, and in cold weather.[7]

Dr Mount appears to have been very careful in his analysis not to put a name to the individual, though he is noted to report that the head was decapitated during life and that it took at least two blows to remove it from the body. 

On 17th March 1877, George Scharf, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, also viewed the decapitated head and took detailed drawings and notes in one of his sketchbooks.

George Scharf Sketchbook
© The National Portrait Gallery, London

Scharf is the first person I have been able to locate who actually documents the tradition that the head is supposed to be of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk.  He also makes several notes recording the heads condition and that it was that of a person beyond the prime of his life. Scharf alsonotes the two cut marks seen at the base of the neck, but makes no mention that the two cut marks differ with the contemporary description of the execution of Henry Grey and that the signs of age are also inconsistent with the age of Henry Grey at the time of his death.[8]

Doyne Bell, a royal official who is recorded as being with Scharf at the same viewing, recalls that Scharf added ‘the arched form of the eyebrows and the aquiline shape of the nose, corresponds with the portrait engraved in Lodge’s series from a picture in the possession of the Marquis of Salisbury at Hatfield.[9] 

George Scharf’s own opinions regarding the similarities between the mummified head and portrait appears to have only strengthened the claim that the head was in fact that of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk.  The writer and artist Lord Ronald Sutherland-Gower was noted to have said that Scharf was

no better judge of an historical head, whether on canvas or in a mummified state, that ever existed.[10]

The story that the head was in fact smuggled from the Tower of London and buried within Holy Trinity Church appears to have surfaced from this.  I have been unable to locate any sixteenth century reference concerning the separated burial of Henry Grey’s head and body.  The only published material reporting this story appears after Scharf and others had viewed the head.

The portrait discussed by Scharf was exhibited on many occasions towards the end of the nineteenth century as a portrait of Henry Grey. The painting was engraved and published in Edmund Lodge’s Portraits of Illustrious Personages of Great Britain as Scharf notes. This book was published in 1814 and widely circulated. The National Portrait Gallery also purchased an identical copy of the same painting in 1867 which was again identified as Henry Grey.  

Robert Dudley
(previously identified as Henry Grey)
Oil on Panel
© The National Portrait Gallery, London

Modern research has now identified that this painting is in fact a portrait of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester painted in the 1570’s, debunking Scharf’s theory. 

It is my opinion that it needs to be remembered that the head was viewed and studied over one hundred years ago.  Yes, these individuals where in a prominent position to make an analysis at that time, using the scientific methods known at that time.  Today, with modern scientific methods, the riddle surrounding the identification of the head could possibly be solved once and for all.  Though difficult to obtain, DNA testing could be attempted on the head to identify any possible connection to Henry Grey if a living descendant could be found.  If a living descendant could not be found, then we do know the burial location of two of Henry’s daughters, though permission would have to be granted to allow the opening of the tombs.   

According to reports, the head was supposedly buried in the churchyard of St Botolph, Aldgate in 1990.  I have heard from an impeccable informant that this is not the case, and that the head is held in a safe and appropriate place, the location known to only a handful of people who need to know its whereabouts. If this is the case, then there is some possibility that this riddle could possibly be looked into further at some point in the future.[11] 


[1] My sincere thanks to Claire Ridgeway of the Anne Boleyn Files for reminding me about this.

[2] Kinns, Samuel, Historical sketches of eminent men and women who have more or less come into contact with the abbey and church of Holy Trinity, Minories, from 1293 to 1893, with some account of the incumbents, the fabric, the plate, 1898, page 182-184

[3] Kinns, Samuel, Historical sketches of eminent men and women who have more or less come into contact with the abbey and church of Holy Trinity, Minories, from 1293 to 1893, with some account of the incumbents, the fabric, the plate, 1898, page 139-184

[4] Nichols, J. G, The Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary and Especially of the Rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyatt, Written by a Resident in the Tower of London, Llanerch Publishers, 1850, page.63-64

[5] For further information on the restoration of the Chapel and the search and discovery of the bones of executed victims see: Bell, Doyne. C, Notices of The Historic Persons Buried in The Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula in The Tower of London, 1877.

[6] Hill. Rev. Thomas, The History of The Parish of Holy Trinity, Minories, London, 1851, page 16

[7] Bell. Doyne. C, Notices of The Historic Persons Buried in The Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula in The Tower of London, 1877, page 184-185

[8] Heinz Archive. NPG7/1/3/1/2/21, Trustees Sketchbook 1876-1877, page 17-20

[9] Bel. Doyne. C, Notices of The Historic Persons Buried in The Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula in The Tower of London, 1877, page 185

[10] Bell. Walter George, Unknown London, Page 13

[11] http://www.hobleysheroes.co.uk/round-ups-and-articles/la-round-ups/67-london-archaeologist-1990-vol-6-10 accessed March 2020.

The Skeffington Portrait

Research into sixteenth century portraiture is a complex but fascinating subject. In many cases, the search starts with the surviving painting itself and then continues with the search for any written documentation concerning its provenance and any clues to the possible identification of the sitter.

When discussing portraits that have a history of approximately four hundred and fifty years behind them, it must be remembered that it is hard today to discover a portrait that has not been altered in some shape or form.  Over the years the original painted surface of a portrait may have been repainted due to bad restoration or over cleaning.  Inscriptions and coats of arms may also have been added at a later period in time, and in some cases the composition, original inscriptions and signatures may have been cut down to enable the portrait to fit in a new frame.

In the case of the Skeffington portrait, much of the above has happened.  This portrait has also been identified as at least four separate individuals during its modern recorded history.  Three out of the four sitters suggested have all faced execution, and today the portrait is now identified as an unknown lady.  

Our first documented record regarding this portrait’s survival is a book in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries, London.  This book contains copies of minutes of meetings held by the society during the nineteenth century and records that a portrait thought to depict Lady Jane Grey was presented to the Society by Sir William Skeffington on 6th February 1806.[1]

The portrait presented depicts a lady, seen to just below the waist and facing the viewer’s left.  Both hands are clasped in front of the sitter, and four gold rings can be seen on her fingers.   The sitter has grey eyes and auburn hair that is parted in the middle.  On her head, she wears a French hood constructed of crimson and white fabric with both upper and lower billaments of goldsmith work.  A black veil is also seen hanging down from the back of the hood, and under this she wears a gold coif.  A black loose gown with a fur collar and mutton leg sleeves is worn by the sitter and is fastened to the waist.  Under this the hint of a crimson kirtle is seen, and at her neck and wrists the sitter wears a figure-of-eight ruff which is embroidered with red thread.  The lady also wears a pendant of goldsmith work containing three square cut gemstones and three pearls suspended at her neck.  She is depicted in front of a plain background, and the image is painted on wooden panel.

Unknown Lady Called Anne Askew
Oil on Panel
27 x 21 inches
Associated with Hans Eworth
©The National Trust

Sir William Farrell-Skeffington adopted the Skeffington name in 1786 and inherited the fifteenth century manor house Skeffington Hall in East Leicester.  Prior to his death he began to sell objects off from the estate and eventually sold the house, land and contents in July 1814.[2]

Skeffington presented the painting for sale to the Reverend John Brand, Secretary of the society of Antiquaries. He informed the Society that the portrait represented Lady Jane Grey and was painted by Lucas de Heere.  No information is provided in the minutes of this meeting to inform us why Skeffington thought the portrait was a depiction of Lady Jane, and no information concerning the paintings provenance was recorded.  It appears that Mr Brand immediately challenged Skeffington’s identification as a painting of Jane Grey, noting that a fragment of an inscription can be seen on the top left-hand side of the panel surface which identified the date that the portrait was painted as 1560.  Brand rightfully recalled that the date painted on the surface did not coincide with the death of Lady Jane Grey and suggested that the portrait must in fact represent Jane’s mother Lady Frances Brandon, with Brand noting that she died in 1563.[3]   

One possible reason for the misidentification as a portrait of Lady Jane Grey is the inscription seen on the right-hand side of the panel surface.  This inscription reads ‘Rather deathe / than false of Faythe,’ which suggest that the sitter depicted would rather die or may possibly have died as a result of religious conflict.  The inscription itself appears to have been painted in a slightly different shade of yellow than the other one detailing the year and artists initials on the left side.  This suggests that one of the inscriptions was possibly added at a later date, though scientific testing would be required to establish if this theory is correct.

There is a popular tradition that Queen Mary offered Jane a pardon if she was willing to convert to Roman Catholicism. The tradition appears to have emerged shortly after Jane’s death as a way for Protestants to promote Jane’s dedication to the Protestant cause even when faced with death.  There is no surviving evidence to document that Jane was ever offered an actual pardon if she would convert, but there was indeed an effort made to get her to convert

Jane was visited by John Feckenham, Queen Mary’s personal chaplain, on 8th Feburary 1554.  By this point in her story, Jane had faced trial and had been convicted and sentenced to death as a traitor for accepting the crown and signing herself as queen. Mary was prevented from issuing a pardon because the Spanish demanded that Jane die as a condition of the marriage between Mary and Philip of Spain. Her execution had originally been set for the following day.  Mary was able to try to save Jane’s immortal soul, however, and she sent Feckenham to see Jane with that specific task, to try and convert Jane to Catholicism prior to her death.

Jane’s execution was postponed for three days, and a debate was had between Feckenham and Jane which resulted in Jane staying strong to the Protestant faith rather than relinquishing it.  This debate was recorded and apparently signed in Jane’s own hand. Within months of her death it appeared in printed format, along with a letter written by Jane to her former tutor Thomas Harding in which she condemned him for his change to Catholicism, thus promoting Jane’s strong belief in the Protestant faith.  In 1615, a pamphlet entitled ‘The Life, Death and Actions of The Most Chaste, Learned and Religious Lady, The Lady Jane Grey’ was published in London. This pamphlet contained a copy of the earlier printed debate and it was noted in the introduction that:

Even those which were of the best fame and reputation, were sent unto her to dissuade her from that true profession of the gospel, which from her cradle she had held. Each striving by art, by flattery, by threatening’s, by the promise of life, or what else might move most in the bosom of a weak woman.[4] 

It is quite possible that the inscription seen on the right-hand side of the portrait and the myth that Jane had been offered the promise of a pardon if she was willing to change her faith led Skeffington or a previous owner to believe that the painting must in fact depict Jane Grey. 

The Skeffington portrait was purchased by the Society of Antiquaries and remained in their collection where it was last recorded in 1847.[5]   How the portrait left the Society remains a bit of a mystery, but it was officially recorded as a ‘missing painting’ in one of the more recent publications on its collection.[6]

As discussed above, the portrait disappeared sometime after 1847, but it reappeared again in 1866 when it was exhibited as a painting of Anne Askew in the National Portraits Exhibition from the collection of a Reginald Cholmondeley.[7]  Reginald Cholmondeley’s principal estate was the sixteenth century Condover Hall in Shrewsbury.   On his death the contents of the Hall were sold at auction on March 6th 1897.  The identification of the sitter appears to have changed once again, and by 1897 the portrait was then referred to as:

Item 43. Lucas de Heere, Queen Mary (of Scots), in black with pink-edged ruff and cuffs, cap with gold chain and jewelled badge. Inscribed “Rather Deathe than false of Faythe,” dated 1560.

The portrait was purchased at this auction on behalf of Wilbraham Egerton, Earl Egerton, brother-in law of Reginald Cholmondeley, and was then displayed at Tatton Park.  In 1958 Tatton Park and its contents were bequeathed to The National Trust by Maurice Egerton, 4th Baron Egerton of Tatton, and the portrait remains on exhibition there today. 

It is my opinion that until scientific investigation has taken place on this portrait to establish if the inscriptions are original or added later then the true identity of its sitter may continue to be unknown.   The portrait is currently listed today on The National Trust collections website as an Unknown Lady, called Anne Askew.  As discussed in detail in other articles on this website, the size of the ruff worn by the sitter and the date inscribed on the left- hand side are both inconsistent with the date of both the deaths of Jane Grey and Anne Askew.  The Skeffington portrait can now be removed from the list of any potential likenesses thought to depict Lady Jane Grey


[1] Proceedings of the society of antiquaries of London, volume 1, page 47

[2] A large fifteen-day sale of the contents of Skeffington Hall commenced on 11th July 1814.  William Ferrell-Skeffington moved to London that same year however died less than a year later on 26th January 1815

[3] Proceedings of The Society of Antiquaries of London, vol 1, page 47. John Band appears to have inaccurately listed the date of Frances Grey’s death.  Frances died on 20th November 1559 and not 1563 as listed in these minutes. One interesting point is that John Brand also owned a portrait thought to depict Lady Jane Grey.  The portrait sold on his death at Stewards Auctions, Piccadilly on June 23rd 1807.  It was purchased by the book collector Richard Heber Esq for the sum of eight pounds.  No portrait described as Lady Jane Grey appears in the sales catalogues of Heber’s collection.

[4] The Life, Death and Actions of The Most Chaste, Learned and Religious Lady, The Lady Jane Grey, Printed by G. Eld for John Wright, 1615, page 22

[5] Electronic communication, Lucy Ellis, Museums Collections Manager, Society of Antiquaries, September 2018

[6] Franklin. J. A, Catalouge of Paintings in the Collection of The Society of Antiquaries of London, 2015, page 411-412

[7] Catalogue for the 1866 National Portrait Exhibition page 21.  Anne Askew was burnt as the stake as a heretic in 1546 for refusing to acknowledge that the sacrament was the ‘flesh, blood and bone of Christ’.