Friday, 23 July 2010

Research into a possible portrait of Mary

Back in the 1920s a portrait of a young woman was sold to Jules S. Bache in New York as 'English Princess', with the implication that the sitter was Mary. The portrait is by a unidentified Netherlandish artist and has been dated to about 1535.

The portrait is currently being examined by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, who have labelled this as ‘Portrait of a Young Woman’ whilst they look into the credibility of the claim that it is of Mary.

If the dating of the portrait is correct – so 1535 – the implication that this is of Mary is problematic. Mary was still in disgrace by that date and thus not in a position to have her portrait taken (nor is there evidence of her sitting for such a portrait between late 1533 to mid 1536). There is a Holbein sketch dated c.1536 in the Royal Collection that is believed to be of Mary, a date which is more logical given that by the summer of that year Mary was back in her father’s favour upon her decision to recognise her demoted status and her father’s headship of the church. The situation was markedly different in 1535. Furthermore the girl appears younger than nineteen, the age Mary was throughout most of 1535.

Previous analysis of this portrait was insufficient to prove that it was of Mary. Hopefully the current investigation will determine the identity.


  1. Excellent post and fascinating. I've linked it here!

  2. Oooh, I've never seen this portrait before! Not sure why but I tend to think its not Mary, there's something about the costume that bugs me, though i can't quite put my finger on it! If its proved its not Mary it does raise the interesting of who else it could be though! Anyway its a beautiful picture - thank-you so much for putting it up!!!

  3. Thank you Gareth! The idea that it is Margaret Douglas is interesting, particularly as she was at court and in the King's favour by this point. I’m currently looking into Mary’s pre-accession years and trying to establish some insight into her life during her period of disgrace and it seems highly unlikely that a portrait would be painted (and certainly there is no mention of it in any sources I've come across). The lack of jewels is in keeping with Mary at that time, though again the issue of the unlikelihood of a portrait being commissioned then remains.

    I would be interested to find out whether the portrait is definitely from the English court. It has been many years since the portrait was examined and the earlier research wasn’t that convincing.

  4. Thank you belinda28! Unfortunately the only decent copies of this portrait that I could find where in black and white, though the gown is similar in colour to the one worn by Princess Elizabeth (attributed to William Scrots):

    The girl has the perfect expression for a c.1535 Mary (in other words miserable!) But unless they can find credible evidence of Mary sitting for a portrait at that time, I find the idea very unlikely. Furthermore the girl looks too young to be Mary especially considering the Holbein sketch of the following year which shows a much more mature woman.

  5. Perhaps what bugs you is the lack of jewels?
    Mary loved her jewels.

  6. The button nose and piercing eyes are reminiscent of Mary, but other than that I'm not sure it does look like her.