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




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