The Somerley Portrait

Formerly called Lady Jane Grey
Formerly attributed to Luca Penni
Collection of the Earl of Normanton
Somerley, Hampshire
     This is perhaps the least well known of the many portraits originating in the sixteenth century that are sometimes identified as Lady Jane Grey. That relative obscurity is due in large part to its being held in a private collection housed in one of the few English stately homes remaining entirely in private hands and not open to public tours. The portrait was better known in the nineteenth century through mention in various antiquarian printed surveys of great country houses and the art collections that they contained. But by the beginning of the twentieth century, it had largely faded from notice. Richard Davey did not mention it, for example, in the summary of portraits in his The Nine Days Queen: Lady Jane Grey and Her Times (1909). Nor is it mentioned by any other twentieth-century writer of which I am aware. Thanks to the kind cooperation and generous assistance of the 6th and current Earl of Normanton, we are now able to view the portrait and to explore its relation to Lady Jane Grey.

     The portrait is a half-length executed in oil on prepared wood panel reportedly measuring 28 inches in height by 21 inches in width. It depicts a woman who appears to be seated, with her body facing obliquely to the viewer’s left while her head is turned toward the viewer. Both hands are visible and raised, and within them she holds an open book.

     The condition of the painting was described in 1960 as:
in general good, but some of the more delicate passages, in the hair and flesh particularly, have been rubbed and subsequently reinforced. The modeling of the jaw-line, and of the back of the neck, is almost entirely new. There are important pentimenti, above all in the right hand. [1]
At an on-site examination on 11 April 2012, it was noted that the protective varnish overlying the paintwork is considerably yellowed, obscuring some of the finer details. There are also numerous areas throughout of thinning or compositional degradation of the varnish. No obvious areas of paint loss or disruption were noted, however.

     The painting depicts a woman of young but otherwise indeterminate age. She appears to be seated and is in front of a dark background with drapery visible in the viewer’s upper left-hand quadrant. There are no inscriptions, cartelinos, or heraldic emblems on the front that might identify the woman.

     The woman has an oval-shaped face with slightly pointed chin. The chin has a mild prominence and central dimple. Her nose has a high bridge of the type often referred to as ‘Grecian’. Her lips are full and her mouth narrow. Her eyes are blue, while her hair is an auburn shade of reddish-brown. The lady’s neck is markedly elongated. She appears to gaze into the distance over the viewer’s right shoulder.

     The lady’s costume consists of a dress of dark color with a rigid bodice that is cut horizontally across the upper bust line. The sleeves are attached squarely at the sides of the bodice so as to leave the shoulders themselves largely bare. The effect achieved by the cut of the bodice and attachment of the sleeves is a rectangular framing of the head, neck, and central shoulders. A white chemise or undergarment is visible along the border of the bodice and sleeve caps. The bodice is embellished with what appears to be gold embroidery about two inches below the upper margin of the bodice and running parallel to that margin. A corresponding line of embroidery is repeated at the shoulder-edge of the sleeve. The lower edge of the bodice is hidden by the sitter’s hands and arms. The cuff of the left under-sleeve of the dress is visible and consists of a russet or terra cotta red fabric overlaying the cuff of the chemise. The cuff of the under-sleeve is tight to the arm and ornamented with pleating or stitched piping, then secured with a round button of gold-work on which can be seen the letter ‘D’. The cuff of the chemise is a simple ruffle without embroidery or other ornamentation. The lower arms are covered by fur-lined oversleeves that have been turned back to display their ermine lining.

     The young woman wears almost no jewels. There is a single necklace of goldwork bar-chain, without visible stones, suspended around the neck, the end of which disappears into the décolletage of the dress. A single strand of large beads, consisting of balls of gold filigree alternated with stone balls, is suspended from her waist, or perhaps from the open book she is holding. Simple golden rings without large stones are noted on each visible finger.

     The lady’s auburn-brown hair is worn parted in the center and arranged loosely down the temples so as to hide the ears, then pulled back behind the head. Her headgear consists of a white coif, the lower margin of which reaches slightly forward to meet the angle of the jaw, completely covering the ears. The coif is probably made of linen gauze and is edged with gold embroidery. No goffering is present.
[2] A simple French hood of low profile is worn over the coif and situated toward the back of the head. It is crescent-shaped, with a rounded crown, and curves markedly forward down the side of the head to terminate beneath the ear. The ends of the hood are squared off rather than pointed or rounded and flat rather than turned up. The French hood is edged with a single habiliment of gold-work without visible stones. A black fall enshrouding the hair is seen behind the sitter’s neck.

     The lady holds in her hands an open book in a dark binding ornamented with silver-colored corners and gold-colored page edges. Two silver clasp closures are attached to the front board or cover of the book. No text is legible on the pages of the book.

     A small cluster of a variety of flowers is attached to the center of the sitter’s bodice (
detail, below). The central pair of flowers, and the largest of the entire group, are white. That to the viewer’s right is fully opened, showing five globular white petals around a yellow center. Its companion, to the viewer’s left, is only partially opened, and the sepals are just barely discernible. These flowers are perhaps some type of simple rose, including primrose or dog rose. To the viewer’s right is a single unopened yellow flower with numerous long thin petals, perhaps a golden aster, a mouse-ear hawkweed, smooth hawksbeard, or even a dandelion. To the lower left is a single small reddish-pink flower with four petals without a contrasting center. I am unable to identify this flower.
     Assessments of the age of the sitter depicted in this painting have varied. Throughout the period during which the painting was thought to depict Lady Jane Grey, i.e., circa 1830s to 1960, her age was implicitly accepted as less than sixteen years. Lady Jane was long thought to have been born in October 1537, and her final imprisonment began in July 1553, so that it has usually been assumed that she was aged 15 years 8 months at the time of her brief reign.[3] Since no portrait of Lady Jane is likely to have been created during the imprisonment following her reign, this portrait was assumed to depict her before July 1553 at about the age of 15 years. More recently, the painting has been thought to depict a woman in her late teens or early twenties.

     Interpretation of the physical manifestations of relative age is an extremely subjective and culturally biased undertaking. In the modern era and in developed nations, with average life expectancies fully double what they were in the sixteenth century, it is not uncommon to see photographic images of people, especially women, who appear as much as two decades younger than their actual chronological age. This is particularly true of women of wealth and leisure with access to good nutrition, hygiene, and health care. Conversely, we often see images of younger women whose appearance is markedly aged by the ravages of manual labor, inadequate nutrition, and poor health care. Because of the very subjective nature of age assessment, especially across almost five centuries of time and between vastly different cultures, as well as through the highly interpretive medium of painted portraiture, it is perhaps best to suspend efforts to gauge any sitter’s age within anything less than a margin of considerable width. Certainly we can determine with reasonable assurance that the woman depicted in the picture is post-pubescent. We cannot, however, determine beyond reasonable doubt what might be the upper limit of her age. I would argue for an age range extending from perhaps aged fifteen to about 25 or even 30 years of age.

     The sitter’s costume has been assumed by art historians working in the middle of the twentieth century to be French in origin, leading them to identify the woman as perhaps herself French.[4] While it is true that the woman wears a hood in the French style, such hoods gained increasing popularity in England throughout the first half of the sixteenth century. Aristocratic women such as Mary Tudor Brandon, Anne and Mary Boleyn, and others served as queens-consort or as ladies-in-waiting at the French royal court, and upon their returns to England they brought with them the fashion for French-style hoods. Consequently, as early as 1520 French hoods began gradually replacing the more cumbersome and angled gabled Spanish hoods of the first years of the century. The rest of the woman’s costume is entirely consistent with English fashions, as discussed below.

     The costume is useful for dating the picture, especially the headgear. Recent research by Louise Pass has more accurately delineated the chronology of the development of the French hood in the English context.[5] The hood seen in this portrait, with its crescent shape, low profile, rounded crown and forward-swept lower edges, is identified by Pass as reaching peak popularity in the 1520s and 1530s. Hoods of very similar design are seen in the copied portrait of Anne Boleyn now in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 668, below left), as well as in the miniature portrait of Mary Tudor by Lucas Horenbout (NPG 6543, below center) from circa 1521-25 and the wedding portrait of Mary Tudor Brandon (collection of the Duke of Bedford, below right) circa 1516. French hoods of the 1540s and thereafter assumed a flat crown, the profile became more elevated, and the sides swept backward to the nape of the neck rather than forward to the jaw-line.
     Similarly, the gown, with its square-topped bodice and bare shoulders, also suggests a date as early as the 1520s, though that style was still prevalent well into the 1540s.[6] The lower edge of the bodice, often a valuable clue in costume dating, is not visible here. The upper sleeves are little larger in circumference than the arms themselves, a cut that remained popular until the bulbous stuffed sleeves of the second half of the Elizabethan period. The design of the lower portion of the over-sleeve, which is also often very useful for dating a costume, is here hidden beyond the lower margin of the composition.

     The extensive use of ermine overlying the lower arms indicates a person of some wealth and status, though not necessarily royalty or even nobility. Ermine used on this scale, however, is seldom seen in surviving portraiture of English women in the first half of the Tudor period. Perhaps the most notable comparison is the portrait of Margaret, Dowager Marchioness of Dorset based on an earlier drawing by Holbein (below, left). In that portrait as well, the fur lines the oversleeves and has been exposed by turning the oversleeves back upon themselves. The turning back of oversleeves to display costly linings was very common practice in English attire of the period.

     The pleated red under-sleeve of the dress can be seen in English drawings and paintings dated as early as 1527. Hans Holbein depicted such pleated sleeves in his portrait of Mary Wooten, Lady Guilford from that year, and they are notably rendered in an almost identical color (below, center).[7] Unlike the Somerley portrait, however, the slashing so typical of the first half of the sixteenth century is clearly visible in the Guildford portrait, and Lady Guildford wears a gabled Spanish hood rather than the French design. The pleated sleeve design was still seen a decade later, again in a painting by Holbein. Those worn by Margaret More Roper in Holbein’s miniature of her (below, right), reliably dated to 1535-36, are absolutely identical to those seen in the Somerley portrait.[8] The cuff of the chemise beneath the left sleeve of the dress is not remarkable, since the ruffled edge was common until the introduction of pleated and rolled ruffs in the second half of the sixteenth century.
     The button visible on the sitter’s left cuff (detail, below left) is of gold-work and has upon it the letter ‘D’. Past evaluators of the painting have associated this initial with ‘Dudley’, the surname of the Duke of Northumberland who, in 1553, aided King Edward VI in an unsuccessful attempt to set aside Mary Tudor from the succession to the English crown and to replace her with Mary’s cousin and the duke’s daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey Dudley. However, a study of John Dudley’s use of badges, devices, ciphers and monograms indicates a consistent preference for the initial associated with his successive titles, e.g., ‘L’ for Viscount Lisle and ‘W’ for Earl of Warwick, rather than the initial of his family’s surname.[9] Further, there were numerous other families with both surnames and titles beginning with ‘D’ during this period, any one of which might have been sufficiently wealthy to commission such a portrait. Lastly, artists of the period sometimes incorporated their own monogram into a painting, as a kind of signature, by ‘hiding it in plain site’ in just such a manner as is seen here. It is therefore possible that the ‘D’ signifies the artist rather than the sitter.

     The strand of beads worn by the sitter (detail, below right, beneath hand) has been interpreted in the past as possibly representing a string of rosary beads of the kind used by Roman Catholics.[10] While such an interpretation is certainly possible, it must be noted that women throughout the Tudor era often wore long strands of beads that circled the waist and hung down the front of their skirts, sometimes as a single strand and other times as a double strand. The beads often consisted of balls of gold filigree or precious stones, or even cameos set in gold. Such strands of beads worn about the waist were called ‘girdles’, and they appear in large numbers in jewel inventories of the sixteenth century. The strands were often supplemented with objects of various types attached to the ends, including pomanders, pendants depicting religious or secular images or set with precious stones, or even small books in protective bindings. In the life-sized portrait of Katherine Parr now in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 4451), Henry VIII’s most ‘Protestant’ queen is depicted wearing a double strand of beads of antique cameos, known in the sixteenth century as ‘agates,’ with large tassles of metal work at the ends. The inventory of Parr’s jewels compiled upon her death in 1548 contains eleven strands under the heading ‘girdles’, plus another eleven strands under the heading ‘beads.’ The latter were made of a variety of materials, including gold, agate, ‘other stones’, and faience. Only two are described as having crosses or other specifically religious symbols attached.[11] ‘Girdles’ comprised of beads certainly had no religious significance or use, but instead functioned solely as personal ornamentation or as displays of wealth through the materials of their composition. ‘Beads,’ as described in Tudor-era inventories, were not necessarily religious items, but might in many cases have been similar to girdles. It therefore cannot be assumed that the beads seen in this portrait are necessarily Roman Catholic rosary beads.
     Lastly, the book held by the young lady offers important evidence. It was certainly custom made, though the limitation of the metallic protectors of the binding to simple corner covers, together with the clasps made of a metal other than gold, suggest a lesser quality manufacture. The placements of the clasps’ hinges on the front board or cover of the book indicates English or French manufacture, rather than German or Netherlandish, which were placed on the back board or cover.[12] The book is relatively large in size and thus is probably not attached to the girdle beads.

     The presence of the open book, together with the artist’s capturing of the woman in the midst of reading it, serves to narrow considerably the field of potential candidates for identifying the sitter. Women, even aristocratic and noble women, were not routinely educated in the first half of the sixteenth century. The literacy rate for the general male population may have been as low as fifteen percent and less than five percent among women.[13] ‘Literacy’ is here defined very narrowly as the ability to recognize formulaic passages in legal documents (e.g., deeds) and to sign one’s name. Full literacy of the type associated with reading of entire books was even rarer, especially among women. Perhaps fewer than one hundred English women of the entire Tudor period possessed the ability to read Latin, the standard by which one was considered ‘educated.’[14] Fully literate and educated women of the first half of the sixteenth century are frequently found in specific clusters, often familial ones. The daughters of Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More, for example, were each exceptionally well educated, as were the daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke, tutor to the future Edward VI.[15] The Tudor princesses Mary and Elizabeth were both well educated, as were the daughters and granddaughters of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor Brandon. In short, women possessing the ability to read books, and likely to wish to display that ability in portraiture, were often associated either with the royal family or with families having close attachments to the royal court. It is therefore reasonably likely that the lady in this painting, if English, is a member of one of those families.

     Lastly, the flowers worn at the bodice must be considered for their symbolic meanings. It was relatively common practice to include flowers attached to a sitter in an English portrait of the sixteenth century, whether held in the hand or affixed to clothing. These inclusions were explicitly intended to be read for their symbolic meaning either as specific identifiers of the person portrayed (as heraldic-like badges or as a type of metonym, e.g., sprigs of rosemary held by a sitter named Mary), indicators of the sitter’s character (ivy for fidelity, oak leaves for bravery or strength), or to convey a thought or emotion held by the sitter (pinks for true love, violets for mourning). In the Somerley portrait, the roses at the center of the cluster are most critical. If dog roses, they may be read as a very specific heraldic badge of the English monarchy. If they are primroses, they may symbolize first love or courage. The unopened yellow flower, if a dandelion, can denote affection returned, faithfulness, or hope; if an aster, love and patience. Though the reddish-pink flower cannot be readily identified, its red color is most commonly associated with courage, sacrifice, and even martyrdom, while pink usually denotes calm acceptance or true love. Without knowing the specific species of each flower portrayed, it is difficult to arrive at an accurate interpretation of their collective symbolic meaning, but certainly ‘love’ emerges as a strong theme. It is nonetheless very tempting to read the flowers as a dog rose of monarchy, a dandelion of hope, and a red flower of courage.

     At the time of its first known public sale in 1833, the portrait was attributed to Luca Penni, an artist born and trained in Florence. Shortly after that sale, Dr Gustav Friedrich Waagen, writing in Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain, re-attributed the painting to Hans Holbein the Younger. At the same time, Waagen was among the first to challenge the identification of the sitter as Lady Jane Grey.[16] Though certainly correct in contesting the identity of the woman, Dr Waagen was incorrect in his attribution. On first inspection, it is clear that this painting was executed by an Italian or Italian-trained master rather than a Northern European painter. The treatment of the figure, with Grecian nose, ‘pouty’ mouth, and elongated neck, is evocative of Italian Classicism of the early Renaissance. The lady appears less like a hardy English woman than a delicate Italian Madonna in English garb. Additionally, the composition of the painting owes much to Italian influences. In particular, the woman is shown seated rather than standing. The former is more common in Italian portraiture, while the latter dominates in English and Northern European portraiture. The figure is positioned so that her head and hands, together with the horizontal line of the book, and her left elbow and upper arm form the outline of a triangle. This motif was begun by Leonardo da Vinci and is seen most famously in his Mona Lisa. The subject in Mona Lisa has her arms folded together, but she is in an otherwise identical position. Da Vinci’s contemporary and friend, Raphael, is known to have seen the Mona Lisa prior to its completion, to have made study drawings of it, and to have used the same compositional motif in portraits of his own making. It is perhaps therefore reasonable to look to students and followers of Raphael, who would have imitated his and da Vinci’s style, as the author of this work.

     Just as Waagen’s attribution to Holbein is clearly incorrect, the earlier attribution to Luca Penni is probably similarly erroneous. Though Luca Penni was born in Rome in about 1500 and is thought to have trained under Rafael, he emigrated to Paris in about 1530. He spent many of his most productive years, especially the period between 1538 and 1547, working at Fontainebleau. Luca Penni is not known to have traveled to England at any point during his life. Penni died in Paris in 1556.[17] Unless the lady depicted was resident in France at the time the portrait was created, Penni cannot have created the work.

     In 1960, John Shearman noted, without specific citation, earlier work by M. Charles Sterling that attempted to identify the artist as Andrea Sguazzella, a pupil of Andrea del Sarto, who was in turn an emulator of Raphael’s techniques. Sterling had apparently observed striking similarities in the composition of the painting when compared to Portrait of a French Lady by del Sarto now in the Cleveland (USA) Museum of Art (accession number 1944.92, below).
Shearman states that, like the del Sarto French Lady, the artist of the Somerley portrait
was sensitive to the eccentric balance of his prototype, where the diagonal link between the two plastic foci, the head and the hands, is counterbalanced by the broad sweep of the stole.[18]
     Shearman further argues that the painter ‘was also familiar with the Mona Lisa, which, of course, was also available to him in France’. Shearman allowed for the possibility that the painting was perhaps by Sguazzella, but argued that ‘the smooth, delicate surface, particularly in the flesh, is quite plausibly French’. Shearman therefore concluded that the artist was an unknown Frenchman.[19] Both Sterling and Shearman assumed that the lady’s costume was exclusively French, and that the outfit dated narrowly to the second decade of the sixteenth century. Yet neither of these assumptions are correct.

     Lord Normanton reports that the painting has more recently been re-attributed to Giuliano Bugiardini. This too seems unlikely. Bugiardini was trained in Florence and spent his entire working career in Italy. For the broadest possible period during which this painting was most likely created, circa 1525-1545, Bugiardini is documented as working in Florence. Like Penni, Bugiardini is not known to have visited or worked in England, and he thus cannot have painted the woman seen here unless she was living in Florence in the 1530s or 1540s. Further, Bugiardini’s artistic style and technique were less refined than what is displayed in the Somerley portrait.

     Only a very small number of the Italian artists who lived and worked in England in the 1530s and 1540s are known, and just one is thought to have trained under Raphael. A manuscript of ‘The King’s Payments’ now in the British Library reveals payments in March 1540 totaling 12l. 10s. made to ‘Anth. Toto and Bartill Penn, painters’.[20] These two are usually identified as Antonio Toto del Nunziata and Bartolomeo Penni, both of whom worked regularly for the Crown and court from about 1530 until, in the case of Toto, the early 1550s.[21]

     Much more is known about Antonio Toto than about Bartolomeo Penni. Toto initially apprenticed in Florence under Ridolfo Ghirlandaio. He came to England in 1519 to assist the sculptor Pietro Torrigiano with his work on a tomb for Henry VIII. When that project was abandoned, Toto entered royal service directly, and specifically as a painter, completing numerous works at Hampton Court, all now lost. In 1543, Toto became Serjeant Painter to Henry VIII, with wide-ranging duties that included not only portraiture but also decorating the royal barges and ships, as well as heraldic illustrations for the funeral of Henry VIII and the coronation of Edward VI. Toto died and was buried in London in 1554.[22]

     Toto’s fellow at the court of Henry VIII, Bartolomeo Penni, was the younger brother of Luca Penni of Fontainebleau, as well as of Giovan Francesco Penni, called ‘Il Fattore,’ who is well known today as one of Raphael’s principal assistants. Like his two older brothers, Bartolomeo is thought to have trained in Rome with Raphael. But nothing else is known about him other than his close association with the royal court in the 1530s. Bartolomeo is often confused or conflated with his brother Luca, however, as was probably the case when the painting was first purchased by the 2nd Earl of Normanton.[23]

     The family history for the painting indicates that it was purchased by the 2nd Earl of Normanton on 29 April 1834. It has been in the collection of the Earls of Normanton since that time, and is now hung in the Gallery at Somerley House, Hampshire.

     Research conducted at the Getty Museum’s Research Institute in Los Angeles, California, offers a slightly different narrative, however. According to records in the Getty archives and databases, the 2nd Earl of Normanton purchased no fewer than 27 paintings between May 1821 and March 1840. These included a set of seven works by Joshua Reynolds entitled The Seven Virtues, as well as works by Albert Cuyp, Willem de Heusch, Cornelius van Poelenburgh, Willem Va De Velde, and Richard Wilson, among others. However, no purchases by the Earl of Normanton are recorded for April 1834, though there were two purchases in May of that year (two works by R.P. Bonington). Further research indicates that no art auctions were held in London on Tuesday, 29 April 1834, though a single auction was held the following day.

     Instead, the London auction house of Mr. Stanley offered for sale on Thursday, 4 July 1833 several works from the collection of Mr. John Boykett Jarman. The sale drew the most discerning of collectors, for it was a major one that included works by Peter Lely, Martin van Meytens, Rafael, Tintoretto, and Holbein, including the latter’s famous portraits of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Anne of Cleves. Among the paintings from Jarman’s collection, the sale catalogue describes lot number 74 thus:
Lady Jane Grey by Luca Penni. This Portrait, so superior to the general style of Portraits of the day, bears evident marks of the Florentine School, and also of that of Raphael. Lucca Penni, during his stay in England, was much employed by the nobility, and it is on record that he painted the Portrait of this distinguished and unfortunate Lady. The beauty of her person and gracefulness of her manners are admirably preserved in this Picture, which is no less interesting as a work of art, than as a corroboration of the eulogiums pronounced on the beauty of the person represented. -- See Dallaway's Note to Walpole's Anecdotes.[24]
Two extant original copies of the catalogue indicate through handwritten marginal notes that ‘Ld. Normanton’ was the purchaser of this lot.[25]

     John Jarman was a London silversmith, goldsmith, and jeweler with premises at 25 Strand and 34 St James Street. After 1820, he began collecting art, and he later became an art dealer in his own right. During the 1830s, he bought or sold no fewer than 468 paintings. The majority appear specifically as sales in 1833 and 1834, indicating that Jarman purchased works primarily from private collections, then re-sold them at public auctions. After about 1834, he became better known as a collector of illuminated manuscripts. Following Jarman’s death in 1864, his Hours of Yolande of Flanders came into the collection of the British Library where it is often displayed in the ‘Treasures of the British Library’ permanent exhibition, and the Esdaile Missal ended up at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.

     I have been unable to determine when, where, or from whom John Jarman acquired Unknown Lady. Though a search of the Getty Provenance Database reveals a number of paintings attributed to the various Pennis having been sold at public auction in the eighty years prior to 1833, none can be identified as the Somerley portrait. Its precise provenance before 1833 remains a mystery in need of further research. In regard to the statement in the Stanley catalogue that Luca Penni is known to have painted a portrait of Lady Jane Grey, it must be noted that no evidence to support that claim survives today. Having researched portraiture of Lady Jane Grey for almost a decade, I have never encountered any mention in documents from the sixteenth-century of a specific artist painting her portrait. The claim by Stanley seems to be a wholly fictitious one.

     The precise regional origin of the painting is critical to identifying both the sitter and the artist. If, as Sterling and Shearman have argued, the painting was created in France, the sitter is almost certainly a French woman. There is, however, no evidence available thus far to indicate that the painting is necessarily French in origin. Sterling’s and Shearman’s assumption that the costume is exclusively French is erroneous. The costume is instead entirely consistent with both French and English fashion between about 1525 and 1540. Sterling and Shearman appear to have been biased in favor of France owing to the larger number of better-documented Italian artists working there and the relative scarcity of Italian artists documented in England. Given the evidence drawn from the lady’s costume and the known presence of Italian artists at the court of Henry VIII, it seems safe to consider the painting as potentially English in origin. It is nonetheless still possible that it was created in France but removed to England before the sale of 1833, especially in the turbulent period following the French Revolution of 1789, when so many French estates were broken up and sold off. Further research on the early provenance of the painting is much needed.

     The artist who created this painting was without question trained by an Italian master, probably in northern Italy. The painting has many of the hallmarks of portraits from the same period by Florentine- and Roman- trained artists, especially those by Raphael and his followers. Among those working in England, Bartolomeo Penni is the most likely possibility, perhaps even the only such possibility. Further research is needed, however, in order to establish a more definitive attribution.

     The composition and execution of the painting are markedly different from the Northern European aesthetic that dominated in English portraiture beginning with Hans Holbein in the 1520s. And perhaps because of that differing aesthetic, few English portraits by Italian artists have survived. We must therefore question why this painting, if truly English in origin, did survive. The answer may lie in the identity of the sitter. If she was a person of sufficient rank or note, successive owners may have retained it for that reason alone, in spite of its divergent aesthetic.

     As noted above, the sitter is likely to have been a member of one of the families close to the English royal court and known for educating its daughters, or perhaps from the royal family itself. The latter offers the most intriguing possibility: Mary Tudor, eldest daughter of Henry VIII. When compared to the portrait of Mary at age twenty-eight, painted by ‘Master John’ in 1544 (NPG 428, detail below), the physical similarities are striking.
     The two women have the same oval facial shape, hair color, high forehead, high nasal bridge, shape of the tip of the nose and nostrils, narrow mouth, and slightly pointed chin with mild prominence. They also have the same eye color. Mary Tudor’s neck even appears slightly elongated in the portrait by Master John. The only perceptible differences are the presence in Unknown Lady of fuller lips and a small dimple or cleft in the chin not seen in the portrait by Master John. In later portraits of Mary, however, suggestions of a cleft do appear, especially in the portrait from circa 1555 by an unknown artist now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 4980). In terms of costume, they are dressed very much alike, though Mary is in warm-weather clothing while Unknown Lady is in winter wear. Mary’s French hood, almost identical in basic design to Unknown Lady’s, has richer and more numerous habiliments. Mary’s other jewels in the portrait by Master John are likewise more ostentatious. These differences in jewels may be a reflection of Mary’s greater age when the later portrait was painted, as well as to a change in circumstances with regard to her father, the king. Mary was fully restored to the succession in 1544, so that a portrait of her created in or after that year would have displayed her with greater finery, as befitting an heiress to the throne.

     The unknown lady is perhaps somewhat younger than Mary Tudor of 1544. The design of the pleated red under-sleeve can be reliably dated to between 1527 and 1535, based on the two Holbein portraits mentioned above, but the style may have persisted for some time thereafter. Mary would have been about nineteen in 1535 and about twenty-four in 1540. The latter date is important because that is the year in which Toto del Nunziata and Penni were paid roughly twelve pounds for work they had done. Was either of them perhaps paid for a portrait of Mary Tudor done in the winter of 1539-40? Intriguingly, Holbein is thought to have been absent from England throughout 1540, having returned to Basel when his travel papers expired, leaving the opportunity for Bartolomeo Penni to pick up the commission.[26] Mary returned to residence at the court in 1540 as part of the entourage of Queen Katherine Howard, and she was herself still a commodity actively negotiated on the international marriage market throughout the period. Might Unknown Lady be a portrait of Princess Mary Tudor painted in early 1540 by Penni during Holbein’s absence and intended for use on the marriage market?

     The ‘D’ on the sleeve button does pose problems for an identification of the sitter as Mary Tudor, however, so we must also consider other possibilities. Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth can be eliminated, not only because her name does not begin with a ‘D’, but also because she did not reach the age of fifteen years until September 1548. This portrait was almost certainly painted well before then. Henry’s many wives can also be eliminated. Anne Boleyn entered Henry’s orbit in 1525 and died in 1536, and she is known to have been reasonably well educated and well read. But she is usually thought to have been darker skinned with dark hair and eyes. No authentic portrait for comparison purposes is known. Queen Jane Seymour was barely literate and wore Spanish gable hoods in order to distinguish herself from her predecessor, Anne. And Holbein’s depiction of Seymour bears little facial resemblance to Unknown Lady. Queen Katherine Howard is also an unlikely candidate, since she is not considered to have been well educated or studious, although she was at least literate. Queen Katherine Parr was both literate and studious, but she wed Henry in 1543 at about age thirty-five, somewhat older than the woman seen here.

          Numerous others wives and daughters of the various royal courtiers, nobility, gentry, and wealthier London merchants could potentially be candidates for the sitter in the painting. There were many with surnames or titles beginning with ‘D’. Among the more likely candidates is Dorothy Hastings Devereux, who married Sir Richard Devereux in about 1541 at age 21. Though her initials after marriage were ‘DD’, consistent with buttons on two sleeves each marked ‘D’, she is not known to have been either educated or connected to the court. Mary Carew Darcy was connected to the court, however, through her father Sir Nicholas Carew, a favorite of Henry VIII prior to his execution for treason in 1539. She married Sir Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy of Chiche in circa 1535 at about age 20. Similarly, twenty-year-old Jane Champernowne became Jane Denny when she married another of Henry’s favorites, Sir Anthony Denny, in 1525, though that may be too early for this painting. Additional research that surveys London-based merchant families is still needed.

     It must first be said that this painting is, unfortunately, certainly not a portrait of Lady Jane Grey Dudley. The costume dates to a period much too early to have been worn by a post-pubescent Lady Jane. Further, the period during which Lady Jane or her family were most likely to have commissioned a portrait of her — late 1552 to July 1553 — post-dates the active periods of the Italian artists known to have worked in England. We must therefore look to some other lady as the sitter depicted here.

     The painting most probably dates to sometime between 1525 and 1535, based on the appearance of the costume, especially the pleated under-sleeves. The design of the French hood allows for the upper margin to be extended to about 1540, assuming evidence of the use of pleated under-sleeves can be found in paintings or clothing inventories produced nearer that later date.

     The painting is of either English or French origin, the former being more probable pending further research on the provenance of the work, and perhaps dendro-provenancing studies.

     The Unknown Lady was painted by an Italian or Italian-trained artist, perhaps a student or follower of Raphael. Among Italians known to have been working in England during the period, Bartolomeo Penni is the most likely candidate. Other Italians who lived in London, but who are now unknown to historians, are possible. If the painting’s origin proves to be French, the list of known candidate-artists is much longer.

     The lady depicted in the painting was educated beyond the norm for women of the period, indicating that she was likely a member of one of the families attached to the English royal court, if not a member of the royal family itself. In light of the ‘D’ on the buttons of the sleeves (and assuming the ‘D’ is not an artist’s monogram), the most likely candidates are, in chronological order:

                         Jane Champernowne Denny, circa 1525;
                         Mary Carew Darcy, circa 1535; and
                         Dorothy Hastings Devereux, circa 1541.

          The final and most intriguing possibility is that the painting depicts Mary Tudor circa 1540, aged twenty-four years, and was painted by Bartolomeo Penni during Hans Holbein’s absence from England in that year. Admittedly, this is only a remote possibility, but one that deserves further investigation.
J. Stephan Edwards, Ph.D.
Palm Springs, California
24 April 2012 
I am deeply grateful to The Right Honourable The Earl of Normanton and to The Right Honourable to Viscount Somerton for their kindness and generosity in allowing me to study their painting and for the invaluable assistance they provided along the way.
Left to right: The Right Honourable The Viscount Somerton, Dr. Stephan Edwards, ‘Unknown Lady’, The Right Honourable The Earl of Normanton
  NOTES :      
John Shearman, ‘Three Portraits by Andrea del Sarto’, The Burlington Magazine 102: 683 (Feb 1960), 62, n. 20. ‘Pentimenti’ are changes made to the painting by the original artist after he has changed his mind about a particular motif.
‘Goffering’ consists of a ribbon of woven gold wire that is folded into narrow pleats. It was sometimes attached to the edges of fabrics, especially in women’s headgear.
Recent research has shown that Lady Jane Grey was born well before October 1537, perhaps as early as October 1536. See J. Stephan Edwards, ‘On the Date of Birth of Lady Jane Grey Dudley’, Notes and Queries 54:3 (Sept 2007), 240–242 and ‘A Further Note on the Date of Birth of Lady Jane Grey Dudley’, Notes and Queries 55:2 (June 2008), 146–148.
Shearman, ‘Three Portraits’, 62.
Louise Pass, The French Hood: The Evolution and Construction of the French Hood, 1500–1600, accessed 20 February 2010.
See, for example, the portraits of Elizabeth Tudor when Princess, circa 1546-7, now in the Royal Collection; Mary Tudor attributed to Master John, NPG 428; or the above mentioned wedding portrait of Mary Tudor Brandon.
Mary, Lady Guildford, 1527, by Hans Holbein the Younger, Saint Louis Art Museum (St. Louis, Missouri), accession number 1:1943.
Margaret More, Wife of William Roper, 1535–36, by Hans Holbein the Younger, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, New York), accession number 50.69.2.
J. Stephan Edwards, ‘The Lady Has a New Face’, History Today 55:12 (Dec 2005), 44–45.
See, for example, Shearman, ‘Three Portraits’, 62.
British Library, Additional MSS 46,348, ff. 171v–172r. Plain ‘crosses,’ distinct from ‘crucifixes’ that depicted Christ upon the cross, were already acceptable emblems among ‘Protestants’ of the 1540s, while ‘crucifixes’ were eschewed as ‘idolatrous.’
Bernard C. Middleton, A History of the English Craft Bookbinding Technique (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1996), 128.
See Kenneth Charlton, Women, Religion and Education in Early Modern England (London and New York: Routledge, 1999); David Cressy, Education in Tudor and Stuart England (London: E. Arnold, 1975).
Retha M. Warnicke, ‘Women and Humanism in England’, in Humanism Beyond Italy, vol. 2 of Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy, ed. Albert Rabil, Jr. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988), 39.
Among the Cooke sisters, Mildred became the influential wife of Sir William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, and Anne was mother to the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon.
Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain 3 vols. (London: John Murray, 1857), II: 364.
Grove Dictionary of Art, s.v. ‘Penni, Luca [Romanus]’.
Shearman, ‘Three Portraits’, 62.
Shearman, ‘Three Portraits’, 62.
British Library, Arundel MSS 97, f. 123v.
Michael Wyatt, The Italian Encounter with Tudor England: A Cultural Politics of Translation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 278, n. 111.
Grove Dictionary of Art, s.v. ‘Toto del Nunziata, Antonio’.
Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England, reprint of edition of 1786 (London: Alexander Murray, 1871), 39; Anna Jameson, Memoirs of Early Italian Painters (London: John Murray, 1857), 263–264.
Getty Institute Sale Catalogue Br-13857, Lugt Number 13367, Stanley Auction House, London, sale of 4–6 July 1833.
One copy is in the archives of the Yale University Center for British Art, with marginal notations by Lord Northwick, while the other is in the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague, Netherlands, with marginal notes by the dealer John Smith.
Derek Wilson, Hans Holbein: Portrait of an Unknown Man (London: Pimlico, 2006), 267.
    Introduction to Portraiture of Lady Jane Grey
    The Althorp Portrait     The Anglesey Abbey Portrait  
    The Bodleian Library 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 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’


Historian "at" somegreymatter "dot" com

Page created 24 April 2010, Revised 24 April 2012, Updated 20 August 2012

Copyright © 2005 - 2014, J. Stephan Edwards
May not be reproduced in part or in whole without written permission of the author.