The Gibson Portrait

The Gibson Portrait
Size Unknown
Location Unknown

The information associated with many portraits thought to depict Lady Jane Grey is often fragmented. In the case of the Gibson portrait, only a letter and a photographic image submitted to The Connoisseur Magazine in 1911 exist to inform us that the sitter depicted was thought to be that of Lady Jane Grey.  This portrait has not yet been located and studied and I have been unable to locate any other information regarding the provenance of this painting. Neither has any information surfaced to show that this portrait was ever included in any public exhibition as a depiction of Lady Jane Grey.

Jane G. Gibson, the then owner of the portrait, submitted a request to the magazine’s readers for further information regarding the identity of the sitter and artist associated with this painting.  No published replies to her request have been located, which suggests that unfortunately Gibson did not get the information she was looking for. 

Within her letter, Gibson reported that a scrap of paper was attached to the back of the painting identifying the sitter as “Jana Graia Holbein pinxit”.  She also noted that the painting was examined by Sir George Scharf, Director of The National Portrait Gallery, London, who, she explains “thought it to be a genuine portrait, by the School of Clouet.”  Gibson does not, however, recall any thoughts Scharf had regarding the identity of the sitter.  She appears to dismiss the identification of the sitter as Lady Jane Grey, reporting that the scrap of paper is a “manifest forgery” and noting that “Jane Grey was a mere child at the time of Holbein’s death”.  Gibson also dismisses Scharf’s opinion that the painting is associated with the school of Clouet noting that the work “resembles other painting’s produced by Holbein”.  She is correct when expressing doubt over the identification of the sitter, though the portrait’s association with Hans Holbein is also dubious[1].

A large number of portraits held in private collections or sold at auction were associated with Hans Holbein during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  That included a small number of portraits thought at the time to depict Lady Jane Grey.  Paintings sold between the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries where simply grouped and associated with the most famous artists working within the sixteenth century.  Little evidence to support the associations were given by the auction houses, and access to information and research into lesser known artists was limited.  A search of the Getty Provenance Database shows that a total of 1563 paintings associated with Holbein and sold at auction between the years of 1800- 1900. It is highly unlikely that Holbein would have had the time to paint 1563 portraits during his lifetime, and therefore not all could have been painted by his hand alone.  It is more probable that a number of the images sold between 1800-1900 were associated with him due to the fame attached to his name, some similarities in style or as a way of adding value to the paintings[2].

As stated above, Gibson is right when noting that the sitter seen in the portrait is too old to be a depiction of Lady Jane Grey, though this does not dismiss the fact that Holbein could have possibly painted a portrait of her.   Holbein did have access to and created a number of images of Jane’s family members including Margaret Wotton, Elizabeth Grey, Eleanor Brandon, and Charles and Henry Brandon.  This does suggest that he could have possibly had access to Jane Grey as well, though the likelihood of a portrait surfacing of Jane by Holbein today very slim.  Holbein died in 1543, and if a portrait was ever to surface painted by him then it most definitely would have to depict a small child rather than the fully developed lady seen in the Gibson portrait.      

Though the quality of the early photographic image submitted is poor and some of the finer details are lost, the costume worn by the sitter does give us some clues as to the period in which the portrait was created.  We can see from the image is that the portrait depicts a young female, painted to below the waist and facing the viewer’s left.  Both hands are depicted in front, and four rings can be seen on her fingers.  The sitter also holds what appears to be a flower in her right hand.  On her head she wears an early example of the French Hood, and her gown has a square cut neckline with large bell-shaped sleeves and fitted false undersleeves.  Two necklaces of goldsmith work are worn around the neck, and a circular brooch is pinned to the front of the kirtle and tucked into the bodice of the outer gown.

The exact date on which the French Hood was first worn in England is unknown, however, it is traditionally thought that this originates with Mary Rose Tudor, sister to Henry VIII, returning from France after the death of her husband in 1515[3].  The hood originated in France and was worn towards the end of the fifteenth century.  Prior to its arrival in England, ladies wore the traditional Gable Hood seen in the many paintings of Elizabeth of York and Katherine of Aragon.  The French Hood became more popular in England when King Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, who was also noted to have spent a period of time in France[4].  It would eventually overtake the Gable Hood in popularity and was worn as a popular item until the end of the sixteenth century.  Slight changes in its appearance and construction occurred during its popularity that can help us to identify a possible narrow period in which a portrait was painted.

The hood worn by the sitter in the Gibson portrait has elongated side panels stretching to just beyond the jaw-line and is similar in style to the image seen above left.  This portrait of Isabella of Austria painted around 1515 shows the French hood in its early stages of development and around the time the hood is thought to have been introduced to England.  By the 1530’s, the front shape of the hood changed slightly, and the side panels became shorter in appearance, ending just below the ear.  Upper and lower billaments were also used to add decoration.  This can be seen in the famous image of Anne Boleyn above middle. By the 1540’s, the side panels of the hood were more concaved in appearance rather than the longer version seen in the Gibson Portrait which shows us that the sitter in the Gibson Portrait is wearing a hood that was still in its early stages of development when the portrait was painted. 

Though it cannot be known for certain until the portrait is located and studied further, the style of costume worn by the sitter is more consistent with that worn during the early part of the sixteenth century, prior to the 1530’s.  If the portrait is English, then it most certainly cannot be a depiction of Lady Jane Grey, as the costume seen is not something that would have been worn by her during her lifetime. The Gibson portrait can now be removed from any list of potential likenesses thought to depict Lady Jane Grey.


[1] The Connoisseur Magazine, vol XXXI, September-December 1911, page 250

[2] http://piprod.getty.edu/starweb/pi/servlet.starweb

[3] Lynn. Eleri, Tudor Fashion, Yale University Press, 2017, page 80

[4] Ives. Eric, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, 2008, page 27

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