The Bodleian Library Portrait
Called Lady Jane Grey
Unknown artist
mid sixteenth century
Collection of The Bodleian Library, Oxford University
Accession number LP-32
     Among the many paintings sometimes identified as portraits of Lady Jane Grey, a few are not on display, whether publicly or privately, and are thus relatively inaccessible. Such is the case with a small panel portrait in the collection of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. Though often exhibited in galleries and museums in the nineteenth century, it has not been part of any organized exhibition since before World War I, and has only rarely been published in photographs. Instead, it spends the majority of its time unframed and locked in a protective hard-shell case in the vaults of the Bodleian. The last time the painting was the subject of scholarly attention appears to have been in the 1960s, when Sir Roy Strong, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, indirectly suggested the sitter depicted might be Elizabeth Tudor when young, rather than Jane Grey.[1] To my knowledge, this webpage is the first time since Strong’s brief glance at the portrait that it has been carefully studied.

     The portrait was given to Oxford University in 1751 by Dr Richard Rawlinson. A graduate of St John’s College, Dr Rawlinson undertook a career as a clergyman, rising in 1728 to the office of bishop in the nonjuring communion of the Church of England. Rawlinson was also a noted antiquarian and collector of books and manuscripts on Freemasonry.

     The provenance for the painting prior to 1751 is not documented.

     The painting is executed in oil on a thin oak panel comprised of a single board measuring 14 inches by 11.5 inches. The wood of the panel is in remarkably good condition and largely free from warping or other damage. There are remnants of multiple paper labels on the reverse, but no marks that can potentially be identified as an artist’s mark. The painted surface of the panel is likewise largely free from intrusive physical damage, though it is markedly dirty. Examination under narrow-spectrum 365nm UV light revealed no significant areas of modern overpainting or restoration. Indeed, the dulled and dirty varnished surface appears never to have been cleaned or re-varnished, and may be original.

     The portrait depicts a young woman at mid-torso length. She is seen in close-up, so that the upper arms are not fully visible. She is turned very slightly to her proper left. She appears before a plain background that was originally a deep blue in color.

     The lady’s face is rectangular in overall shape, with a high forehead. The hair is golden brown, straight, and worn parted in the center and pulled tightly to the sides, forming a sharp horizontal line across the top of the forehead. Her eyes are large and brown in color, with the gaze fixed to the viewer's left. The nose has a high bridge and a somewhat bulbous tip, giving the overall impression of a large nose. The lower lip is full, while the upper is somewhat thinner and has a pronounced fleshy protrusion below the mid-point of the so-called ‘Cupid’s bow’. The chin appears slightly prominent and pointed. The ears are conspicuously unseen.

     The lady is in winter attire consisting of a black coat lined in white fur with brown spots, probably ermine. The coat has a closure at the center front of the torso, with bits of the furred lining showing at the edges. The collar of the coat is turned down to reveal again the ermine lining. Fur can likewise be detected where the sleeves join the shoulders of the coat. Beneath the collar of the coat lies the plain open ruffled collar of a chemise, with un-tied points hanging from the central closure. A plain dark line lies across the throat, perhaps representing a cord necklace. The lady’s headgear consists of a plain black hood or bonnet with a wide flat brim across the front that curves down at the sides of the head to form a roughly triangular-shaped frame for the entire head.

     In 1887, the National Portrait Gallery (London) acquired a painting very similar to the Bodleian portrait, NPG accession number 764 (below). Officials at the NPG were immediately aware of the resemblance between the Bodleian and NPG paintings. In March of 1887, George Scharf, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, received a letter from his counterpart at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), George Wallis, in which Wallis expressed an aesthetic preference for NPG 764 and dismissed the Bodleian portrait as ‘a very ugly edition of the same person’.[3] That early comparison led to additional suggestions that the two paintings depict the same sitter, or that one is a copy of the other.[4] Though NPG 764 is approximately half the size of the Bodleian painting, executed on a round board, and the image is reversed, the physical appearance of the two faces is nonetheless readily perceived. The only significant difference in physical appearance between the two sitters lies in the coloring of the hair, which has a more golden hue in NPG 764, perhaps the result of detectable overpainting.[5]

Unknown woman,
formerly known as Lady Jane Dudley (née Grey)
by unknown artist
National Portrait Gallery, accession number 764
     There are, however, differences in the costumes worn by the two sitters. The collar of the chemise worn by the Bodleian lady, for example, appears to be an integral part of the chemise itself. As noted above, it consists of a simple ruffle that is worn open, with two un-tied points hanging from the closure. In contrast, the collar of the lady in NPG 764 includes a high, full ruff, which is usually a separate article and not permanently attached to the chemise. Additionally, the NPG lady wears her ruff closed rather than open. Further, the coat worn by the Bodleian sitter lacks the vertical slash over each breast seen in NPG 764. And where the Bodleian lady wears a corded necklace under her chemise, the NPG lady wears what appears to be a metallic necklace outside her chemise and ruff. The costume differences indicate at minimum that neither painting is a direct copy of the other, and may even indicate that two separate and distinct sitters are depicted.

     Like the Bodleian portrait, the NPG painting had, for a considerable time prior to it acquisition, been identified as a depiction of Jane Grey. The identification was buttressed by a purported connection to Ashton Old Hall and the Grey earls of Stamford, descendants of one of Lady Jane’s uncles.[6] Thus the traditional identification of either sitter, coupled with the strong physical resemblance between the two and the limited similarity of their costumes, has served to reinforce the identification of the other.

     Alternative identifications for the sitter in the Bodleian portrait have been proposed in the past. In the first half of the twentieth century, historian Margaret Toynbee argued for Mary Tudor, though the sitter bears little physical resemblance to authenticated portraits of Henry VIII’s first daughter.[7] Sir Roy Strong, in his published discussions of the iconography of Elizabeth I, initially postulated that NPG 764 – and thus indirectly the Bodleian portrait as a supposed ‘copy’ – might depict Henry VIII’s second daughter.[8] He subsequently noted, however, that he had become ‘less inclined to support re-identification [of the sitter] as the young Elizabeth’, stating that she was instead ‘likely to remain unidentified’ since ‘identification as Lady Jane Grey cannot be sustained’.[9]

     Identifying the sitter in the Bodleian portrait is problematic, since no documentation on the painting survives that might support naming the lady. Nor is there any evidence to be derived through examination of the panel or the painted image that might shed reliable light on her identity. There are no marks or inscriptions naming the sitter or indicating the date at which the painting was created. Dating by means of costume analysis is not helpful in this case, since the style of headgear and coat are seen across a span of at least two decades. Katherine Willoughby Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk (and step-grandmother to Lady Jane Grey) wears a nearly identical outfit, for example, in a miniature portrait of her datable to before 1543 (below, left).[10] Likewise, Katherine Grey Seymour, Jane’s younger sister, wears a very similar coat in a well-known portrait of her (below, center) that can be dated to about 1562, though she wears it with the front open and the sleeves detached.[11] Seymour again wears a black coat lined with ermine in a second portrait of her from the same period, but this time with the coat closed and the sleeves attached, though the entire coat is heavily embellished with gold aiglettes (below, right).
Katherine Willoughby Brandon
Inscribed ‘H Holben fecit’
miniature, watercolour, before 1543
Coll. of Baroness Willoughby de Eresby,
Grimsthorpe and Drummond Castles

Katherine Grey and Edward,
Lord Beauchamp of Hache

Unknown artist
oil on round panel, 29 in. dia., undated
Coll. of the Duke of Northumberland, Syon House
Portrait of Lady Katherine Grey,
c. 1555–1560

Levina Teerlinc
miniature, watercolour on vellum
Victoria and Albert Museum,
accession number P.10-1979
     Just as there is no reliable evidence to identify the sitter, so too evidence to identify the artist is lacking. The painting is unsigned and there is no visible maker’s mark or artist’s monogram on either side of the panel. The overall execution of the work is somewhat two-dimensional and flat, lacking in careful use of highlighting and shadowing to produce contours. The starkly geometric delineation of the margins of the face at the hairline and sides suggests a lesser degree of training and accomplishment on the part of the artist.

            In the absence of virtually any substantive evidence to identify the sitter, the artist, or even a reasonably narrow timeframe during which the portrait was created, it is unwise to suggest, even tentatively, possible identifications for the young lady. And while past identifications as Lady Jane Grey or Elizabeth Tudor may have been based in part on the supposition that she is wearing ermine, a fur often assumed to denote highest status, studies of Tudor-era sumptuary laws have shown that use of ermine was far more widespread.[12] The lady may as easily be any one of hundreds, if not thousands, of young women who lived in England in the middle of the sixteenth century. Her identity must therefore remain unknown.

J. Stephan Edwards, Ph.D.
Palm Springs, California
26 October 2010
  NOTES :      
Sir Roy Strong cited in Reginald Lane Poole and Kenneth Garlick, Catalogue of Portraits in the Bodleian Library (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 157; Roy Strong, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 54; Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2 vols. (London: HMSO, 1969), I: 76 and 109.
As a nonjuror, Dr Rawlinson opposed the earlier recognition in 1688 of William and Mary as co-monarchs following the deposition of Mary’s father, James II. Rawlinson was thus anti-Hanoverian and pro-Stuart. Since Jane Grey represented an alteration of the succession similar to that of 1688, it is likely that Rawlinson’s interest in Lady Jane was largely sentimental rather than political, stemming from the re-emergence of her narrative in the literature of the early eighteenth century.
George Wallis to George Scharf, 4 March 1887, Heinz Archive and Library, National Portrait Gallery (London), file on NPG 764.
Sir Roy Strong, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, cited in Reginald Lane Poole and Kenneth Garlick, Catalogue of Portraits in the Bodleian Library (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 157; National Portrait Gallery Collections Database, Unknown Woman, Formerly known as Lady Jane Grey, accessed 19 October 2010.
Heinz Archive and Library, National Portrait Gallery (London), file on NPG 764.
The Earls of Stamford descended from Lord John Grey of Pirgo, younger brother of Henry Grey and uncle of Lady Jane Grey. Ashton Old Hall, near Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, was used by the nineteenth-century Earls of Stamford as a hunting lodge, but was sold in 1893 to the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway Company and subsequently demolished. When NPG 764 was sold in 1887 to the National Portrait Gallery by Amelia A. Boulton, she indicated that her father had purchased it some years earlier from a broker in Stalybridge, a village within one mile of Ashton Old Hall. Boulton believed the painting had actually come from the Hall, and it was later suggested that it may actually have been stolen from the Hall. Roger Grey, 10th and last Earl of Stamford, later denied that the painting had ever been at Ashton Old Hall, casting doubt on the origins of NPG 764 prior to the 1880s and on any connection to the Greys. See Heinz Archive and Library, National Portrait Gallery (London), file on NPG 764.
Noted without source citation in Reginald Lane Poole and Kenneth Garlick, Catalogue of Portraits in the Bodleian Library (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 157.
Roy Strong, Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 54. I find no record of Strong addressing directly the identity of the sitter in the Bodleian portrait.
Roy Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2 vols. (London: HMSO, 1969), I: 76 and 109.
The miniature is inscribed ‘H Holben [sic]fecit’ and therefore dates to some time before Holbein’s death in 1543. Holbein painted miniatures of Katherine’s two sons, Charles and Henry, in 1541, so that the miniature of Katherine might be datable to the same year.
Sleeves were a separate article of clothing and not permanently attached to the torso of a jacket, doublet, coat, or gown. They could thus be removed at will.
  See, for example, Maria Hayward, Rich Apparel: Clothing and the Law in Henry VIII’s England (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2009).  
    Introduction to Portraiture of Lady Jane Grey
    The Althorp Portrait     The Anglesey Abbey Portrait  
    The Chawton House–Hever Castle Portrait     The Elliot–Gedling House Portrait  
    The Fitzwilliam Museum Portrait     The Houghton Hall Portrait  
    The Jersey Portrait     The King’s College Portrait  
    The Madresfield Court Portrait     The Melton Constable Hall Portrait  
    The Norris Portrait     The Northwick Park Portrait  
    The Portland Portrait     The Rotherwas Portrait  
    The Somerley Portrait     The Streatham Portrait  
    The Syon House Portrait     The van de Passe Engraved Portrait  
    The Wrest Park Portrait     The Yale Miniature  
    Other Portraits Called
‘Lady Jane Grey’


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Page Created 17 November 2010, Revised 28 December 2011, Updated 20 August 2012

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