The Moseley Miniature Set: A Well-Travelled Portrait

The Moseley Set
Watercolour on Card
1 ¾ in diameter
©Image Curtesy Freeman’s, Philadelphia, 2022.

Description:

This miniature portrait of Anne Boleyn is one of three, depicting figures from Tudor history, displayed in a black ebonised frame.  All three miniatures measure 1 ¾ inches in diameter and are executed with the use of watercolour and gouache on card. The sitter’s are depicted in front of a plain blue background with a gold boarder.  Anne Boleyn is depicted to just below the chest, 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 large and brown in colour and her eyebrows are thin and arched.  The nose is rather large with a high bridge and her lips are full.

Her costume includes her trademark French Hood, ending just below the jawline, which is constructed of black fabric and pearls. At her neck, she wears two strings of pearls with the large letter B pendant of goldsmith work seen in other images based on the B pattern.  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.   

Condition:

Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate a high-resolution image of this portrait, so, I am unable to comment in any great detail as to its condition. From the low-resolution image provided by the auction house, all three miniature portraits appear to be in rather good condition, with a clear surface and bright colours. The ebonized frame, in which all three miniatures are stored, does appear to show some signs of general age.

Discussion:

The Moseley Miniature, named in this study after its first documented owner, is certainly one of the lesser-known depictions of Anne Boleyn, based on the B Pattern.  As with a lot of the information regarding the iconography of Anne Boleyn, the documentation concerning the Mosely Miniature is fragmented, and its exact date of creation was for a short period of time thought to have been the sixteenth century. 

The first actual piece of evidence which can be associated with this particular portrait appears in 1857. This small miniature, along with the two others displayed within the same frame was exhibited in the ‘Art Treasures Exhibition,’ Manchester.  The Catalogue entry for this exhibition lists the owner as a William Moseley, esq and describes the sitters as

Three Miniatures: Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Charles V (when 19)[1]

Unfortunately, no artist had been associated with the creation of the three portraits in the exhibition catalogue and no information concerning the portraits provenance was also provided.  No inscriptions detailing the sitter’s names or ages can be viewed on the portrait’s surfaces. So, we must then presume that either the portrait set contained a label on the back, or that the information about the sitter’s and their so-called ages was provided by Moseley himself.   

William Moseley’s principal seat was Leaton Hall, near Enville, Southbridge.  He had inherited the hall from his father Walter Henry Moseley, on his death in 1827.[2]  No documentation has, yet, been located to inform us exactly when the Moseley family acquired and sold the portrait set.  Walter Moseley began extensive remodelling of Leaton Hall in 1817, and it may be possible that the set was purchased around this time.  On the death of William Moseley, the estate then passed to his son William Henry Moseley, and remained in the family until it was eventually sold off in 1916.[3]   

By the early 1920’s, the portrait set appears to have travelled overseas and was in the collection of socialite and antique collector Edith Mary Kingdon Gould. [4]   On her death in 1921, the family began selling off large amounts from the collection she had acquired.  Between the years of 1925 – 1938, many auctions took place containing items once belonging to Edith Gould and on 12th January 1929, the portrait set was once again up for sale. The auction catalogue for this sale does give us our first piece of photographic evidence.  The portrait set was noted to be a featured lot in the sale and placed next to its lot description was an early black and white photograph showing the collection of three miniatures in all their glory.[5]

Early Image of The Moseley Portrait Set
© Public Domain
Detail: Anne Boleyn Watercolour on Card
1 ¾ in diameter
©Public Domain

Unfortunately, again, this catalogue description gives us no details as to the provenance of the set, and by this point all three portraits had been wrongly associated with the hand of sixteenth century artist Hans Holbein.  During this period, many sixteenth century portraits, and in some cases more modern creations, held in private collections or sold at auction were simply associated with the hand of Hans Holbein.  Due to lack of access to documented information and provenance details, portraits were simply associated with artists due to some slight similarities in style, the fame attached to a name, or as a way of adding value to a painting.  Several other supposed sixteenth century miniature portraits described in the same catalogue, today, certainly have some questionable identifications when it comes to both sitter and artist associated to them. As with the Moseley Miniature, little, or no evidence to support the associations was provided by the auction house at the point of sale. 

The stylistic approach used by the artist who created the Moseley miniatures is most certainly not consistent with any other sixteenth century miniature portrait.  It is also most definitely missing that fine quality of brushwork seen in other miniatures that can truly relate to the hand of Hans Holbein. The approach is more consistent with that used by the nineteenth century British Miniaturist, George Perfect Harding (1781-1853). 

Left: Moseley Anne Boleyn Centre: Anne of Cleves By George Perfect Harding Right: Prince Arthur By George Perfect Harding

During the nineteenth century, artists would often revisit the works of some of the more prominent sixteenth century artist’s and produce copies of their portraits to satisfy the high demand in the public’s fascination with English History.

In some cases, many of these newly created copies would often be so realistic that at times it would be extremely difficult to establish the genuine artifact from the newly created version.  Some of the more modern copies would, at times be sold off as a genuine sixteenth century portrait due to the quality of the copy. George Perfect Harding was a prolific copyist of historical portraiture and would often go to extreme lengths to locate works which had not, as yet been reproduced by other peers of his day. Harding was certainly an exceptionally talented artist, who would never attempt to pass his own works off as the genuine artifact. Examples of his work are stored today within private and public collection’s all show his stylistic approach of a sixteenth century portraits, rather than a direct copy created to mislead viewer.[6]

By 1971, the portrait set was once again back in England and was sold by Sotheby’s auction house on 18th of October.  During this sale the set was rightfully described as ‘after Hans Holbein, probably by George Perfect Harding’ and sold for the sum of one hundred and fifty pounds.[7] It finally appeared, once again in America, when it was sold from the collection of Dr Virginia Armentrout, in 2006, by Freeman’s auction house, Philadelphia. The set was purchased for the sum of one thousand six hundred dollars, and I am now informed that it is currently in a private collection in Pennsylvania.[8]

Conclusion:

Though undoubtably a beautiful portrait of Anne Boleyn, it appears that the portrait is most certainly a nineteenth century copy, rather than that produced by the hand of Hans Holbein. It can therefore be eliminated from any possible list of sixteenth century portraits associated with the name Anne Boleyn.  If anything, this article has attempted to document and put some order to the provenance relating to this item.  


[1] Catalogue of Art Treasures of The United Kingdom, Manchester, 1857, item 23, P.208

[2] Burke, Bernard, (1879) A Genealogical and Heraldic History  of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland, Harrison. Pall Mall, Vol 2 P: 1134

[3] Shropshire Archives, SC/1/50, Sales Catalogue for the Leaton and Whittimere estate, July 1916

[4] This was not to be the only portrait of Anne Boleyn owned by the Gould family, and a second portrait was purchased by Anna Gould in June of 1940 and can still be seen at the Family seat of Lyndhurst Manor toady. For more information on the Lyndhurst portrait see: The Lyndhurst Portrait – Lady Jane Grey Revisited

[5] Objects of art: American Art Association: Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming: Internet Archive, accessed June 2022

[6] For more information on the historic portrait copyists and their production see: Reynolds. Graham, (1999) The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Miniatures in The Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, Royal Collection Enterprises Limited

[7] Sotheby’s Sales catalogue, 18th October 1971, lot 79

[8] Electronic communication with Raphael Chatroux of Freeman’s Auctions, 20th August 2020

6 thoughts on “The Moseley Miniature Set: A Well-Travelled Portrait

  1. Thanks for this, Lee. A new Anne – lovely.

    I’ve said it before I know: a lovely Hever ‘B-Pattern’ names the artist of the original as the Dutch artist, Lucas Corneliszoon de Kock, who was also a professional chef – a kind of Tudor Ramsay!

    The Hever example uses the Latin genitive ‘Lucas Cornelii’.

    Holbein, always punctilious, tended to write the sitter’s age on the portraits: ‘anno aetatis suae….’ his or her age.

    No-one seems to know how old Anne was, or the year of her birth. Portraits of Anne – in the gable hood – are, it seems, based on Holbein.

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  2. And to add: it’s intriguing that Anne, in some of the ‘B-Pattern’ examples is looking directly at the viewer – with ‘eye contact’ as it were – but in some others she is turned at a slight angle with downcast and even melancholy eyes – though her costume and jewellery are the same.

    Greystoke Castle has an Anne portrait – large, and based probably on a Holbein – on display. She is in the gable hood; a different pattern. That Castle is a Howard seat.

    I wonder whether this means that she had several originals painted during her reign?

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  3. Absolutely beautiful. To think that all the craftsmen back then had modern technology and tools, really blows my mind. Apart from the most beautiful jewellery, the buildings are fascinating and many can still be seen today.

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    1. Hans Holbein did have tech – as did other artists. My mother is an artist and told me about it long back. A booth with light, mirrors, and lamp – and a wax template…….Hence the title of the Novel ‘The Mirror and the Lamp’.
      Vermeer is well known, later, to have used it. There is a documentary about it.

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      1. And: ‘The Portraits of Holbein at Windsor Castle’ has an intoductory essay by K.T, Parker describing the art techniques…..my mother gifted me this when I was a child.

        it includes an Anne.

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