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Portraits of Katherine Parr
April 11, 2015
8:51 pm
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Alexandria
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For somewhat mysterious reasons many portraits of Katherine Parr have been identified as being of Jane Grey. I wonder why this should be. However, the portraits show an adult woman, at an age Jane never reached, wearing a costume current when Jane was under 10 years old, and jewellery which can be identified as that of the Queen consort. It has been suggested to me that when it became fashionable in the seventeenth century and later to have a collection of portraits of protestant luminaries, it was necessary to create some of them from any suitable material to hand, as genuine portraits were lacking. It may be that an original of KP was used to create a portrait of Jane Grey for such a collection. Below is a discussion on some of the known portraits. I haven’t put in links to them for fear of making this entry too bulky, but you can find them easily by searching.
1. National Portrait Gallery number 4451. This is the famous one showing her wearing a farthingale under a gown of silvery-grey figured damask. This was originally acquired by the NPG as a portrait of Katherine Parr, but was immediately relabelled as Jane Grey by the then Director, Roy Strong, based on its resemblance to the Van Der Passe engraving (see below), published in 1620, and thought to be based on a lost Holbein. However, this engraving has since been idenitifed as Katherine Parr, and NPG 4451 has likewise been relabelled. NPG 4451 shows a young adult woman (too old to be Jane) wearing the costume of the very early 1540s, ermine oversleeves (reserved for royalty) and jewellery consistent with a higher status than Jane Grey enjoyed at the time. The jewellery has been identified as that of Katherine Parr.
2. The Melton Constable portrait, also known as the Hastings and the Seaton Delaval portrait. This was said to have been at Astley Castle, which was very near Bradgate, the home of the Grey family, and to have been moved from their when the Hastings family left. However, Astley Castle passed out of the Hastings family in the 1470s, far too early to have had a portrait of Jane Grey, or indeed of Katherine Parr. There is no real trace of the picture until 1770, when it appears in an inventory of items moved from Hillmorton in Warwickshire to Melton Constable Hall in Norfolk. There it remained until 1948 when it was moved to Seaton Delaval in Northumberland. Until 2010 it was identified as Jane Grey, but again the jewels are those of Katherine Parr. The face and hair also resemble Katherine (as it seems there is no authentic portrait of Jane Grey it is not possible to say if it resembles her – however, J.Stephan Edwards has recently published a book about portraits of Jane Grey, so I may be out of date). There is a facial similarity to NPG 4451, and the costume is very similar although it appears to be a summer dress and lacks a supporting farthingale. It bears a striking resemblance to the Van Der Passe engraving. It is on canvas, which would not have been used pre-1600, and may be a copy of a lost original.
3. The Van Der Passe engraving. This bears a great resemblance to the Melton Constable portrait and may have been made from it. In particular the jewels again and also the damask fabric is identically patterned. The sitter faces the other way – this is natural for an engraving from a portrait – the process reverses the alignment) but would not have been used in the tudor period (in portraits of couples the woman usually stands to the man’s left, with the body turned towards him. Even in paintings of women alone this posture is adopted, as if there were an imaginary man standing to the woman’s right. where this does not occur it is because the woman has a higher social position (for example Mary Tudor Queen of France and her husband Charles Brandon, or Mary Dacre and her son (the painting formerly identified as Frances Brandon and Adrian Stokes), where the woman is on the man’s right) The engaving was published in 1620 as Jane Grey – engravers were not always scrupulous in their sourcing of material.
4. The Jersey Portrait
Comments by J. Stephan Edwards, Ph.D. of California (his copyright)
Only limited information is available on the Jersey Portrait, in large part because the painting was for over 60 years reported to have been destroyed in a fire. In 1949, the 9th Earl of Jersey, George Child Villiers, donated his London home of Osterley House and Park to the British Nation but removed many of the valuable art objects beforehand. He stored them temporarily in a warehouse on the Isle of Jersey, location of the family seat, Radier Manor. A series of random arson fires plagued Jersey that same year, one of which involved the storage facility for the Earl’s collection. On Friday, 1 October 1949, a fire broke out in the furniture depository of F. Gallais and Sons in St Helier, Jersey, resulting in the loss of an estimated £100,000 worth of the Earl’s property (roughly £2,500,000 in purchasing power in 2010, without consideration for appreciation as collectible objects of art). Sir Roy Strong reported in his book on Tudor portraiture (published 1969) that this painting was among those lost in the fire. Strong’s report has been largely unchallenged publicly until now. The current Earl of Jersey has, however, confirmed that the painting survives and is now owned by The Earldom of Jersey Trust and held at Radier Manor in the Isle of Jersey.
The first thing even the most casual of viewers of this portrait is likely to notice from the only available color photograph of the painting is its similarity to the Melton Constable (Seaton Delaval) portrait. The two are virtually identical except for the style and coloring of the costume: the gown seen here is more appropriate for cold weather while that in the Melton Constable Portrait is best suited to warmer weather. Other than the seasonal nature of the gown, the two portraits appear to be duplicates of each other, from the positioning of the sitter and the placement of her hands to her jewels and even the background elements. The single readily-discernible exception is the hair, which here appears to be artificially crimped while that of the Melton Constable Portrait appears naturally wavy.
As noted above, little is known about the painting. It is oil on wood panel, consistent with sixteenth-century practices. It is about three-quarter life-size, according to the current Earl of Jersey, measuring 34 inches high by 24 inches wide. The frame bears a label of unknown age and origin identifying the sitter as Queen Mary. No detailed provenance information has ever been published, so that it is not possible to know when or how it came into the Jersey collection at Osterley House. It is worth noting that the original Tudor-era Osterley House had been built in the 1570s by Sir Thomas Gresham, who held Lady Jane’s sister Lady Mary Keyes in custody from 1569 to 1572. The Osterley House built by Gresham fell into ruin in the eighteenth century, however, making it unlikely that the portrait originated there. Osterley was acquired and rebuilt in the 1760s by Sir Francis Child, ancestor of the 9th Earl of Jersey. The painting almost certainly entered the Jersey collection after 1760 as decoration for the new house.
Because the details in this portrait match so precisely those of the Melton Constable Portrait, it is certain that this is the same sitter as seen in the Melton Constable Portrait. Further, because the jewels in this portrait match exactly the jewels in the Melton Constable portrait, and those jewels correspond to items detailed in inventories of the royal jewels and of Katherine Parr’s jewels, it is exceedingly likely that the sitter see here is once again Queen Katherine Parr. Parr is known to have commissioned numerous portraits of herself while married to Henry VIII, and this portrait was no doubt one of the many produced and given to friends and family.
5. The King’s College portrait – this is called Jane Seymour or Jane Grey, but again it may be Katherine Parr. It is not on public display, and only a photograph is in the public domain. It is small – 26 inches by 21. Its provenance is unknown, and it bears no facial resemblance to other portraits of Jane Seymour, which were produced during her life or for her husband, who would have known what she looked like! The sitter wears what appears to be a French Hood, whereas Jane Seymour was known to favour the gable hood. The headdress appears to be a simple band, there is no raised upper billiment. It is poorly painted and appears to be a copy made by someone unfamiliar with the costume styles of the Tudor period. The costume style would seem to date from the late 1530s, too early for Jane Grey. The portrait is on canvas, dating it to post 1600, and the painting style would seem to date it to 1700 or later. It faces right, not culturally correct for the tudor period, and it has been suggested that it is a poor copy of the Van Der Passe engraving.
6. The writer Alison Weir has recently identified a portrait as Katherine, which was previously identified as Princess Elizabeth. It shows a young lady with brown hair wearing a black dress and a pearl choker-style collar. There seem no good grounds for her identification, and the facial resemblance to either proposed sitter is entirely absent – granted that artists vary in their skills but these women are not even the same physical type. Alison Weir is somewhat given to identifying portraits as KP, she previously identified the Norris portrait as her, and has also indicated she may think the Streatham portrait, which it resembles, is KP too. As the original cannot be located judgement must be suspended.

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