Katherine of Aragon or Mary Tudor? – The Re-identification of Michel Sittow’s Portrait of a Young Woman by Nasim Tadghighi

Figure 1 – The portrait in question

Thank you so much to Nasim Tadghighi for bringing this re-identification of Michel Sittow’s portrait to my attention and for writing this article which explains how it came about. Both Nasim and I would love to hear your thoughts on this too. Over to Nasim…

Two weeks ago my sister travelled to Vienna and visited the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Fortunately she came back with various postcards and holiday snaps of the places and items she knew would be of interest to me. This included an image of a painting by the sixteenth-century Estonian artist, Michel Sittow, known to many as a portrait of a young Katherine of Aragon [Figure 1].1 But I noticed that the museum had labelled the portrait as “Mary ‘Rose’ Tudor”, daughter of Henry VII, sister of Henry VIII, consort of Louis XII of France, and grandmother of Lady Jane Grey (amongst many other connections). This re-identification has been little commented upon which is particularly surprising considering current interest in Tudor portraiture, and in the dynasty as a whole.

Given the painting’s long association with Katherine of Aragon an argument contradicting this will be met with some wariness, even strong opposition. For many, this is an iconic image of the young and reputedly beautiful Katherine. A Katherine before the strain of widowhood, before the tragedy of multiple failed pregnancies and the breakdown of her marriage to Henry VIII. The portrait was even included in the British Library’s 2009 exhibition, Henry VIII: Man and Monarch, marking the 500th anniversary of this monarch’s accession. There the portrait was presented as “The Young Katherine of Aragon” around c. 1504-5.2 Yet the previous year an article was published that challenged the argument it was Katherine, proposed it was of another prominent lady, and was so successful in its assertions that the Kunsthistorisches Museum rejected the Katherine tradition.

Following the discovery that the portrait is no longer believed to be Henry VIII’s first wife, I emailed the museum for further details. They were extremely helpful, and sent me the influential article – Paul G. Matthews, “Henry VIII’s Favourite Sister? Michel Sittow’s Portrait of a Lady in Vienna”, Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Museums Wien 10 (2008), pp. 140-149. Matthews completed his PhD thesis, “Masks of Authority: Charles V and State Portraiture at the Habsburg Courts, c.1500-1533”, at the University of Cambridge in 2003. Since then he has published several articles on the Habsburgs and art, as well as work in connection to the Dulwich Picture Gallery.3

In the article, Matthews notes that the portrait’s association with Katherine began in 1915 when this identification was proposed by Max Friedländer.4 Friedländer’s paper concerned a painting of the Madonna and Child that had recently been acquired by the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum (now the Bode Museum).5 The sitter in the painting bore a resemblance to the young woman in the Sittow portrait (whom Friedländer identified throughout as “Michel”; the artist’s precise identification as “Sittow” came about later). Friedländer argued that “Michel” was a favourite portrait artist at the court of Isabella I of Castile, narrowing down the woman’s identity to a member of this queen’s family.6 The fact that the sitter in the portrait has a “C” on her bodice, and wears a collar depicting “K”s and Tudor roses led Friedländer to the conclusion that it was of Isabella’s youngest daughter, Katherine, then engaged to Henry VII’s eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales (Friedländer mistakenly calls him Edward).7

It is a view that has stuck. Matthews goes on to state that the first to identify “Michel” as Michel Sittow was Gustav Glück in 1933.8 As Matthews notes, “as well as attributing the Vienna panel to Sittow, Glück proposed the Vienna portrait had been painted during a hypothetical visit to England”. Glück believed that Michel visited the court of Henry VII in the autumn of 1505, probably in the retinue of the Habsburg envoy, Hermann Rinck, who had travelled to the English court to discuss a union between the widowed Henry VII and Margaret of Austria, daughter of Emperor Maximilian I. By then Katherine was residing in England following her marriage to Prince Arthur and his death only six months after. But “there is no documentary evidence for Sittow’s presence in England and the attribution to him of the portrait of Henry VII is no longer accepted”.9

Where does the challenge to Katherine as the sitter come in? Matthews claims “while Friedländer’s identification and Glück’s chronology have been often accepted, neither has been confirmed by any documentary evidence.”10 Matthews admits he is not the first to be suspicious of the tradition that it is Katherine. Sir Roy Strong has remarked that the young woman looks little like Katherine in later portraits of her. Matthews briefly discusses the existing portraits of Katherine to offer some comparison. He remarks that unfortunately we do not possess an array of images of the young Katherine; “the first secure portraits of her appear in the 1520s”.11 He seems to favour the argument that a portrait by Juan de Flandes does depict a young Katherine due to some comparison he sees in this and later, well known, standardised portraits of her [Figure 2].12 But the Vienna portrait does not match.

Figure 2

Matthews does not reject the argument that the painting is by Sittow, of Sittow’s known connection to Isabella of Castile, later to her son-in-law, Philip of Burgundy, and thus to the Habsburgs. Therefore the woman in the portrait is either a Habsburg or associated with the dynasty in some notable way. This is where Mary Tudor comes in. Mary, daughter of Henry VII, was betrothed to the future Charles V in 1508 and “from this date Mary was known at the English court as the “princess of Castile”.”13

Matthews states that following her betrothal to the future Holy Roman Emperor and King of Castile and Aragon, Mary was given a number of presents. This included “a large piece of jewellery from Charles: a ‘K’ for ‘Karolus’ garnished with diamonds and pearls which was inscribed ‘Maria optimam partem elegit, que non auferetur ab ea’ (‘Mary has taken the best part, no one shall take it from her’), a quotation of Luke 10:41 in which Jesus praises the English princess’ namesake”.14 Do the ‘K’s that adorn the sumptuous golden collar of the sitter actually stand for Charles, and not Katherine? Matthews elaborates that “there was a Burgundian tradition of women wearing propriety jewellery” and even brings in a comparison closer to home.15 In the 1520s Mary Tudor’s niece Princess Mary (later Queen Mary I), also found herself engaged to Charles. In a miniature by Lucas Horenbout, Princess Mary is depicted wearing a brooch inscribed “The Empour” (a title that Charles had been elected to by that date).16

But why has the portrait been dated to c. 1514 if the betrothal dates to late 1508? Matthews points out that Sittow was in Habsburg service again between 1513 and 1516.17 Arrangements for a meeting between Charles and Mary were being discussed in late 1513.This never materialised, Henry VIII became angry about the stalling of events prompting measures by the Imperialists to pacify the English King.18 This included sending Seigneur de la Roche to London, who in June 1514 wrote back to Margaret of Austria claiming he had met Mary, who regarded herself as still promised to Charles and, importantly, that a portrait of Mary had been completed.19 If we accept that Sittow was the artist, and there is no reason to reject this artist’s identity, then this means Sittow was in England at this time to paint Mary. Though Matthews previously notes that there is no evidence for Sittow being in England during Henry VII’s reign (so could not have painted Katherine in England by that point), he does think a later date of 1514 is possible. Sittow was certainly travelling around by this stage, for it is assumed he went to Denmark to paint Christian II who was betrothed to one of Charles’s sisters. “Therefore, as Sittow was travelling abroad in order to make the betrothal portraits for the Habsburgs, it seems possible that he was he painter being referred to” in this diplomat’s letter.20

So is this Mary? Matthews considers other portraits of her, but points out that many of the images said to be of her tend to contradict one another (in that they appear not to represent the same woman!). Furthermore the well known double-portrait of Mary and her second husband Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, is not a contemporary likeness; worse still, it “seems to be several steps removed from a life sitting, a situation made worse by later overpainting” so we shouldn’t base our opinions of her appearance on this alone.21 What can we rely on? Matthews claims the only image that can certainly be dated to her lifetime is a portrait by Joannus Corvus in Sudeley Castle, though we do not know whether Mary sat for Corvus, if it was based on other images of her, or whether it has been overpainted (and how many times at that) [Figure 3].

Figure 3

To enforce his argument that it is Mary, Matthews claims the idea it is Katherine makes less sense when we consider the sitter’s clothing. “It was the custom that upon betrothal princesses would adopt the national dress of their partners – Henry VIII is documented as wanting Mary’s wedding dress to be in Burgundian fashion, sending swatches of fabric to Margaret of Austria for her approval so if the sitter were Catherine of Aragon it would be logical that she would be portrayed in either English or Spanish dress”.22 Matthews believes the sitter’s dress is very similar to the fashion worn by Charles’s sisters in certain respective portraits of them. He also claims that a portrait of Charles’s sister Margaret (only copies of which exists), “displays the same pilgrim’s shells that can be seen in the Vienna portrait. Indeed, even more telling against the identification of the sitter as Catherine of Aragon is that her symbol was not the scallop shell but the pomegranate”.23 (If you look closely, the shells adorn the edge of the sitter’s bodice).

One criticism of Matthew’s argument is the lack of reference to a portrait of Mary by Sittow in Margaret of Austria’s inventory of 1516. Matthews addresses this absence by saying the portrait probably was with Margaret’s father, and Charles’s grandfather, Maximilian I. Maximilian became interested in marrying Mary in 1515 following the death of Mary’s husband Louis XII of France (and evidently before knowledge of her hasty marriage to the duke of Suffolk became public knowledge). It is possible the portrait was completed back in 1514, never sent because the Mary and Charles match broke off shortly after the painting was finished, but was then sent to Maximilian when once again there was talk of a marriage alliance between the Tudors and the Habsburgs. We know Maximilian possessed a portrait of Mary, and reputedly gazed at it for at least half-an-hour, though all talk of marriage came to nothing when Mary’s union with the duke of Suffolk was revealed. This, Matthew says, explains why the portrait ended up in the Habsburg collection.

So to summarise this already too long article(!), Matthews believes it is of Mary, the reputedly beautiful Tudor princess, for several key reasons:

  • The lack of contemporary evidence supporting the initial assumption it was Katherine.
  • That the ‘K’s on the sitter’s collar stand for Mary’s betrothed Charles, and that Mary was in receipt of similar items of jewellery. It was also “a custom for the brides of Burgundian princes to wear proprietary jewellery”.
  • The sitter wears similar dress to Charles’s aunt and sisters. Katherine would have had no reason to wear such attire. The inclusion of shells on the sitter’s dress can also not be connected to Katherine.
  • A Habsburg artist certainly painted Mary in 1514. Sittow was in Habsburg employment by that time and travelling for various commissions.

These conclusions evidently convinced the Kunsthistorisches Museum. But will his arguments find favour amongst Tudor scholars and other enthusiasts? Perhaps one way forward is dendrochronological dating that can answer the question of whether it does date to c. 1514. But I suspect that even if such tests were done, and proved to support Matthew’s argument, the idea it is not a young Katherine of Aragon will still be one some find hard accepting.

Notes and Sources

  1. “Mary Rose Tudor (?)”, by Michel Sittow, c. 1514. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Inv. Nr. 5612.
  2. Susan Doran (ed.), Henry VIII: Man and Monarch (London: The British Library, 2009), p. 59, entry 44. I think this was the last time the portrait was exhibited in the UK.
  3. For more information on Matthews’s work see this (apparently personal) site: http://allisonandpaul.com/Paul.html
  4. Max J. Friedländer, “Gemäldegalerie. Ein neu erworbenes Madonnenbild im Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum”, Amtliche Berichte aus den Königlichen Kunstammlungen, 36, 9 (1915), pp. 1-4.
  5. “Virgin and Child”, by Michel Sittow, c. 1515-8. Gemäldegalerie Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
  6. Ibid, p. 20.
  7. Ibid, p. 21.
  8. Gustav Glück, “The ‘Henry VII’ in the National Portrait Gallery”, The Burlington Magazine, LXIII (1933), pp. 100-8
  9. Matthews, “Henry VIII’s Favourite Sister?”, p. 143.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. “Portrait of an Infanta. Catherine of Aragon(?)”, by Juan de Flandes, c. 1496. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. “Queen Mary I”, attributed to Lucas Horenbout, c. 1521-5. National Portrait Gallery, London.
  17. Ibid., p145
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid, pp. 145-6.
  20. Ibid, p. 146.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid, pp. 146-7.
  23. Ibid, p. 147.

Related Post

78 thoughts on “Katherine of Aragon or Mary Tudor? – The Re-identification of Michel Sittow’s Portrait of a Young Woman by Nasim Tadghighi”
  1. She looks like she has the Tudor red hair…I had originally thought Katherine of Aragon had black or brown. Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention! It was very insightful! 🙂

    1. Catherine of Aragon was not a typical Spaniard in looks, she had auburn or strawberry blonde hair which she inherited from her Trastamara ancestors. It is an interesting re-identification, isn’t it?

      1. No existe un español típico, hay diversidad en España, en el norte como Galicia somos más rubios y de ojos claros, y en el sur, la gente es más morena, pero generalizar diciendo “típico español” es una falta de conocimientos y demuestra una tremenda ignorancia, que con todo el respecto, soléis tener los ingleses respecto a los españoles.

        Catalina no era típica española porque no existe la típica española, somos castañas, rubias, morenas y hasta en el norte abundan las pelirrojas

        1. La primera que cae en estereotipos eres tú. Está estadísticamente demostrado que hay más rubios en el sur de España que en el norte. Y las o los pelirrojos existen por toda la península. Acusas a los ingleses de ignorancia, pues la misma que tenéis los españoles del norte hacia los del sur, que no son más que los hermanos menores que no tuvieron derecho a herencia y, ante la falta de tierras, marcharon hacia el sur, hacia Canarias, o hacia América.

      2. No existe un español típico, hay diversidad en España, en el norte como Galicia somos más rubios y de ojos claros, y en el sur, la gente es más morena, pero generalizar diciendo “típico español” es una falta de conocimientos y demuestra una tremenda ignorancia, que con todo el respecto, soléis tener los ingleses respecto a los españoles.

        Catalina no era típica española porque no existe la típica española, somos castañas, rubias, morenas y hasta en el norte abundan las pelirrojas

        1. Mis antepasados son del Norte de Iberia. Cantabricos de decendencia, y tambien gallegos. Aunque mi apellido es Catalan, mi otro apellido es Montanes, que es Cantabrico. Todos mis hijos son pelirojos con ojos verdes y mi unica hija tiene ojos azules con pelo negro lacio. Todos se ubicaron en Cuba en las Americas. Otros descendientes son Franceses que era de la parte de los Perera que tambien tenian apellidos Franceses y catalanes. Todos se ubicaron en Cuba. Mi opinion es que Catalina era tipica espanola de Cantabria, pero como el norte de Espana tiene descendencia celtica y tambien Vikinga, hay tambien razgos geneticos nordicos de Noruega. Catalina tenia pelo rojo lacio con ojos azules, una genetica que es solo 1% de la poblacion tipica de pelirojos.

      3. What is your source on this? I can’t find a legitimate source on her hair color anywhere. Whoever wrote her wikipedia page confidently explains that she was “blue eyed, very fair, and had reddish blonde hair just like her mom and sister”. No citation for this, of course, even though they cite everything else. Is it possible that Katherine has always just been assumed a redhead because of the misidentification of this portrait?

    1. It is a very interesting article. I have never thought that this portrait looked like any others we have seen of Katherine of Aragon. However, having said that I find that portraits of supposedly the same person often look entirely different depending on the interpretation of the artist

  2. Thanks for writing this Nasim and to Claire for posting it. Can’t wait for further discussion and research. Does throw me a bit when a portrait that you always associated with a certain person gets re-identified.

  3. Very interesting and thought provoking! I am leaning toward it being Katherine of Aragon, however, because even with all the evidence pointing away from Katherine, I believe the potrait more closely resembles her than any other woman at the time. Just a gut feeling. And I really want it to be Katherine considering the heartbreak she suffered in later ages. No real evidence only speculation so I say, it depicts Katherine of Aragon, Queen of England.

    Who do you think it is,Claire?

      1. Now that’s interesting, I think the wikipedia pic bears more resemblance to figure 2 above, than Figure 1. Maybe Catherine and Mary Rose were very alike? Catherine inherited her fairness from her English ancestry from John of Gaunt who was also a significant ancestor of Mary Rose. In 1514 Mary Rose was 18 – and married the French King Louis XII, not Charles. Does Figure 1 look like an 18-year-old?

        1. You do point out some very strong arguments to support to argument for Katharine. Especially to age factor.

        2. But the painters tend to age the sitter. If you look at the portrait of the Christina of Milian, she lookes like a 20/30 year old but in fact she is only 17. I suppose it is all up to interpretation.

      2. i would assume its mary tudor because ,the red hair ,also she really resembles henry ie the round face ,small mouth, but then again it could be to do with what the painter techniques

        1. should have said i think pic 2 looks like henry ,the small mouth ,pic 1 mouthshape is different ,pic 3 looks an older woman of whom i would have no idea

  4. Fascinating. I’ve always wondered about the double portrait of Mary and Brandon given the contemporary descriptions of Mary with red gold hair and the portrait showing her with black hair. If it’s not from life and has been overpaintee says a lot. As for the portrait in question I know that David Starkey thought it was Juana of Castile. This possible identification is interesting

  5. And as we are starting rehearsals for the Maryland Renaissance Festival tomorrow for the year 1514 I just shared this with the cast

    1. Hello Diane,Our Rennaissance starts 1rst of August threw October in Wiscosons,I to am getting ready for the fest,so much to do,But always look foward,every year. Our Queen is Elizabeth 1. Good to see some fellow Renn Fest people. Thx Baroness.

  6. Very interesting! I too looked at the wikipedia portrait and thought the features were similar. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they decide this is Mary Tudor and not Catherine.

  7. This is exciting! I’ve always accepted that this was a portrait of a young Katherine. I did take a look at Mary Tudor in the link that Claire has so kindly provided. Very close, except for maybe (putting the stress on “maybe”) Mary’s face looks a little bit more oval shaped. Otherwise, there is much to give one pause and puts Mary Tudor as a very good candidate for Figure 1.

    To confuse matters, here are more portraits of Katherine (maybe) done at different stages of life:


    The last one on that page looks almost like a boy to me! It also claims the Mary Tudor portrait is that of Katherine.

    There are experts today who specialize in facial ID-either photos or portraits-and I wish these paintings could be subjected to some of their research. I think with the various examples we have, the key lies in the shape of the nose. The ears would be of immense importance; I see only three portraits which show the ears-two on the link I provided and Figure 2 above of a young Katherine. Hard to tell if the latter portrait’s ears match the others.

    Sorry for the long post but this is exciting news to me. More and more portraits are coming into question as to who is actually being portrayed. Historical research is so interesting!

    P.S. I dislike the portrayal of Katherine in so many movies and shows. Except for the excellent job done by the 1970’s “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, she is invariably shown with dark hair and a darker skin tone than Henry’s other wives. Very historically inaccurate 🙁

    1. Henry VIII would be pleased that Catherien’s Spanish ancestry is highlighted, even though they have to falsify her appearance (hair color, skin tone) to do it. After all, since Catherien was descended from Edward III through John of Gaunt and his second wife, she had a better claim to the throne than did Henry VII (descended from John of Gaunt through his third wife) … and if you believe that the marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville wasn’t valid, Henry VIII’s claim thorugh his mother wasn’t any good either (Chapuys cited this in encouraging Charles to declare war on Henry).

      I agree, though that this is exciting. Thank you, Nasim, for writing this (and you, Claire, for posting this)

      1. History always seems to forget that, although there were blood lines involved, Henry VII won the English Crown through right of conquest.

    2. Pics 2&3 on your link look like the same lady and also resemble the disputed portrait. The rest don’t, IMO. I’ve just found our that Catherine and Henry VIII (and therefore Mary Rose) were 3rd cousins via their descent from John of Gaunt. Family likeness, maybe?

  8. Very interesting article! Of course I’ve always thought this was a portrait of Katherine; however, now that I look at it, she does have the characteristic “Tudor” looks, in coloring and the like.

    Then again, the Tudors and Katherine’s family are all distantly related, so familiar resemblances can creep up from time to time.


  9. Whoever the young woman is (I do prefer to think of her as Katherine of Aragon), she is certainly beautiful. It is definitely one of my favorite Tudor portraits.

  10. The pearl on the bodice of the dress in figure #3 looks like the pearl in the Mary I portrait. Kathrine COULD have handed down that jewel to her daughter. Love the informative article. Very intereasting. Thank you.

    1. I assume you are talking about the large pearl the Mary Tudor often wears in her portraits. That pearl was given to her by her husband, Phillip of Spain so no it’s not from Catherine.

  11. This is quite an interesting article! I have always had doubts that this portrait was of KoA since it looks nothing like the later portraits of her. The original process of attributing seems rather shaky from what I have read here now.

    I highly doubt that it is of Mary Tudor however. The very well know portraits of her as Queen of France and as a young girl match each other very well – the same pouting mouth, nose, eyes. They are clearly of the same person.

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Tudor.jpg (as Queen of France)

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MaryTudor111.jpg (as a young girl)

    The Michel Sittow portraits shows a girl with a very different nose however. So I don’t think this is the same person as the one in the other two portraits.

  12. Very interesting article. I was just looking at images of Katherine of Aragon on Flickr and stumbled onto an image of “Juan de Flandes (ca 1465-1519), Portrait of Joan the Mad of Castile”. Isn’t she Katherine’s sister? The image is almost identical to Figure 2 above. Check it out and see if I am crazy – okay, I probably am, but…

  13. Thank you both for sharing this. I’ve been waiting to hear what Nasim found out from the museum. On first hearing of the change, it seemed to make a bit more sense. I don’t recall ever hearing of Katherine wearing French hoods. I think all of the other portraits I’ve seen of her, she’s wearing the English Gable Hood. And the Katherine Portraits all have the same features, while this one varies a bit from them.

  14. I think that the portrait is more likely to be of Catherine than of Mary.

    True, the two women had similar colouring (red hair, fair skin, blue eyes), but the facial features seem to me to resemble those in the two portraits of the older Catherine by Lucas Horenbout. The nose, mouth and chin appear very similar to me, despite the fuller face in the later portraits.

    Additionally, the sitter in the Vienna portrait appears to be the same young woman who posed for Sittow’s ‘Virgin and Child’ and ‘Mary Magdalene’, which are generally considered to have been painted in Spain at the time that the artist was working for Catherine’s mother. Catherine could well have posed for these, but Mary could not.

    I would not set much store by by the dress and headdress either. Both were fashionable in England by the early 1500’s and were not specifically ‘netherlandish’ And Sittow seems to have travelled around a lot. It is entirely possible that he was in England between 1503 and 1505, and could have painted Catherine at that time.

    Finally, there is a sketch of Mary said to date from 1514/5 which seems to be authentic. It shows a women with a longer, thinner face than the sitter of the ‘Vienna’ portrait.

    1. I put together a slideshow of the supposed portraits at this post last year:


      For me it’s the nose, so I say Sittow’s halo portrait is of Catherine. I suppose the artist’s style has a great bearing on successive images, but Sittow was clearly good enough not to have distorted the truth.

      I say the same about Flande’s portrait – so that’s more likely another version of Juana la Loca. But Matthew’s view, according to this post, favours the Flandes portrait.

      I’d like to read Matthew’s article, but n.3 of the article posted here just has a link to a website that says it’s forthcoming.

    2. This is right. Sittow recycled the portrait in images of Mary with Child (where she is holding a baby boy) and also Mary Magdalene. So it does seem to be Katherine when she was young and had not suffered all those miscarriages and being married to Henry VIII. Her necklace is interesting – trying to find a clear image of it. It looks similar to one worn by Katherine’s mother-in-law Elizabeth of York.

  15. Upon reading the title I thought “No way could this be Mary!” But Matthew makes a very compelling argument…Now I dont know what to think. What is everyone’s opinion?

  16. I enjoyed not only the discussion about the portraits but also learned even more history information in the article that I didn’t know

  17. I think that the plethora of pics of K of A and princess Mary Rose are so similar that it’s difficult to tell.

  18. Like most I have always thought the portrait to be of Katherine…but on saying that the eyes look so different in figure 2, they are a very distinctive ‘Almond’ shape, and if this is a true likeness of Katherine when young, I would have though such a strong facial feature would not have been missed by different Artists. Although figure 1 is looking down the eyes do seem, to me anyway, to be different, bit more rounded, as in figure 3 and the picture Claire said she had been looking at. Just when we are in acceptance of ‘who’s who’ in the potraits of the historical charactors we love to discuss, along comes a new theory to suggest otherwise, it’s great, it shakes up all we know, and gives us a new dimention on things.
    It will be hard though, if this portrait is ever proved to be Mary, to get my thinking into it not being Katherine after all this time….

  19. Claire,Wonderfull as always, I to thought Queen Kate had black hair,still most stunning,hope all is well,checking customes,will give you a heads up,take I just had back surgery and have one more on July 26 th omg. THX Baroness Little Slow.

  20. That was my thought. Katherine of Aragon descends TWICE from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. By his first and second wife. Blanche of Lancaster (of English Royal blood) and then Constanza of Castile. And the Trastamara’s descended from Henry II of Castile had the light appearance as well. I also wondered about the ages. Interesting arguments, but people seem to forget those factors when it comes to Katherine’s appearance. I don’t agree with it being Henry’s sister because of the argument that women would adopt the style of clothing of their husband’s country; she was a French queen, not Spanish. I’m not convinced it is Mary, but now the question does arise if this is Katherine, yes.

    1. I agree with you about the costume – it is well-documented, to use but one example, that when Catherine of Aragon first met her father-in-law, Henry VII, she was clothed in Spanish style with her face concealed by a mantilla. He made her take it off so that he could see her face. He was, apparently, agreeably surprised. Betrothed women may occasionally have worn (in their own countries) the costume of their future husbands’ countries, but I suspect not very often. Most betrothals fell through, after all.

  21. I think it is Catherine. The halo (painted at a later date than the portrait itself) speaks volumes as to the sitter, in my opinion.

    1. Its not a halo, its part of the hood she is wearing. Its gold edging along the hood’s edge, presumably as deocration.

  22. It looks to me like the nose and eyes are similar in the portrait being disputed and the portrait of Mary Rose as Queen of France, the eyes seem slightly downcast and have similar shape, and the nose is slightly long in each. The portrait of her as a young woman seems to have the same eyes and nose, just that she is holding her eyes open more than in the others. Her mouth seems a bit less pouty in the disputed portrait, but other than that I can see the similarities in all three.
    It seems to me that this may be Mary Rose.

  23. I have just visited Katherine’s tomb in Peterborough Cathedral. Above the tomb there is a needle work copy of said portrait. The info states that the image is a copy of an earlier painting and the halo has been added to make a connection between Katherine as a good catholic and the Madona

  24. Comparing this portrait with the sketch done of Mary “Rose” Tudor done when she was in france (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MaryTudorQueenFrance.jpg) I personally don’t see any resemblance – the mouth and chin are just to different. Especially since the above portrait there appears to be a dimple in the chin, where as the sketch there is no dimple. Also the woman in the sketch had thicker lips where the above portrait is quite thin.

    I think it’s a very interesting argument to be made though!

  25. I keep changing my mind back and forth. To me, it now comes down to the nose. In the portrait #1. the end of the nose turns up, IMO more so than the others. It is a cute nose, and Mary was known for her attractive looks. It just looks different than the other renditions, which appear more aquiline.

    I’m sure modern forensic artists would have a grand time comparing these portraits. And even then, one could not be 100% sure because of possible later repaintings, etc.

    Don’t you just love a good Tudor mystery?

  26. This is really fascinating! It seems very likely this is Mary after all, and really makes a lot of sense. It always seemed so different from the other representations of Catherine.

    It also goes to show comparing likenesses to existing portraits doesn’t get you very far because they all keep changing their attribution!! For example the one of Mary with Charles Brandon is no longer thought to be Mary. Also, the portrait in this article said to be Catherine I am sure I have seen called Juana of Castile or perhaps Isabella.

    What do you know about this painting in the Detroit Institute of Arts, also said to have been painted by Sittow “Catherine of Aragon as the Magdalen”? I have not seen this referenced in a histroy book before. https://www.dia.org/object-info/35c12f36-1403-45f2-be0b-a95bd101daee.aspx?position=156

    Finally, I would have guessed the person in Figure 3 was Jane Seymour. It totally reminds me of the Holbein painting!

  27. its all very confusing to try to figure out whos who in these portraits and has anyone seen,actually this is to do with anne boleyn,the serpent portrait of elizabeth 1 ,they found another portrait underneath it ,in other words if im confusing everyone ,some artist painted elizabeth over this very beatiful woman who is supposedly anne boleyn

  28. I have wondered if it is Katherine of Aragon because she wears the French headdress that exposes the hair (very risque at the time!). Conservatives wore hoods that kept the hair covered, and Katherine was a strict, upright conservative woman. Anne Boleyn popularised the French hood, but when Jane Seymour became Queen she was a woman after Katherine’s heart and brought back the hair-covering hoods. The woman does not look like Mary Tudor (Henry’s daughter) to me. And why does she have a halo? Is she supposed to be a saint, or someone who was later looked on as a saint?

  29. I always thought that this portrait was very similar to this portrait of Catherine of aragon–http://fineartamerica.com/featured/catherine-of-aragon-as-the-magdalene-michiel-sittow.html

    Perhaps it is possible, that the one that does not bare a striking resemblance to Catherines other paintings is because it is in fact her sister, Joanna or just different angles, lights, and of course different artists.

    My favorite painting of Mary Tudor (Henry VIII sister) was always this one. http://webspace.webring.com/people/at/tudorgenealogist/MaryTudor.jpg In this painting, Mary looks quite different from the portrait in question.

    Moreover, the paintings of Lady Jane Grey might bare a resemblance to Mary Tudor, as they are related.

  30. I have been torn as to whether this is Katharine, or Mary. Whoever, it is an exquisitely executed portrait of a young girl, with scallop shells decorating the neckline of her dress. Matthews puts forward a very convincing argument that it is not Katharine, but Mary, sister of Henry VIII.

    The scallop shell is the symbol of St James, the patron saint of Spain. Why would Mary Tudor have these round her neckline? Had she been on pilgrimage – the scallop shell being the symbol worn by those who had undergone a pilgrimage? If so, then we are still at a loss. However, the Scallop shell is also found on the French Order of St Michael (founded in 1469) and Mary was married to Louis XII of France for a short time. Jean Fouquet painted this miniature to celebrate the founding of the Order. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Louis_XI_préside_le_chapitre_de_Saint-Michel.jpg . Here is Mary’s husband of a few months, wearing the Order.

    Whatever the symbolism, we are still no wiser since the scallop shell could reference either Spain or France. Like many other images of the time it gives us a conundrum to consider. I am fascinated by this one http://speedy.theanneboleynfiles.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Attici-251×300.jpg and my theory regarding the meaning behind the motto is in my novel, The Truth of the Line and in m guest article for the anneboleynfiles https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/attici-amoris-ergo-is-this-a-portrait-of-arthur-dudley-by-melanie-taylor/ .

    If the portrait is of Mary, perhaps she is this young man’s great aunt. Like the pretty young woman with the scallop shells and the blonde hair, we will never know for sure just who either of these people are.

  31. For me, it is Catalina. The K’s, the scallop shells (a very popular, widely accepted, already centuries-old symbol in Spain – but a “newly arrived” in France)… Also have in mind the other Spanish paintings by Sittow, depicting a girl with an extraordinary resemblance to that of our (your) “X” sitter, resembling her much more than the portrait of Mary as Queen of France. The sketch of Mary doesn´t seem lady “X” at all, either.

    I have always loved the discussed portrait. There you have a very realistic painting of a young woman (not a girl – remember the age issue) with little to no make-up (as we say in Spain, “with her face washed, and freshly combed”. I can perfectly imagine she grazing a cow in any Galician, Asturian or Northern Castilian or Leonese village.

    We should have always in mind the influence of make-up (for instance, failing to fake narrow or thicker lips in reality, but succeeding in paint) and the sheer skillfullness of the painter. The most famous portrait of Ann Boleyn, for example, seems to me so similar to so many others, almost as standardised as an (non-Akhenaton) Egyptian portrait, that I would not rely on it… Or that of Catherine by Lucas Hornebolte, in which she seems to have developed a completely anachronic Hapsburg prognatism, lips and chin. ???

    Oh and it is quite clear that there is no “halo”; it it only a (nice, elegant imho) headdress.

    Why doesn´t anybody protest the fact that “historic” (pseudohistoric) media productions not only parrot old false-proven stereotypes and distort historic data, but they don´t even bother to find actors and actresses having a minimum resemblance to the original characters? (off-topic, sorry)

  32. Interesting that portraits of Mary show hooded eyes and a long thin nose just like those of Catherine of Aragon (and also, now I come to think of it and compare, pictures of her grandmother Margaret Beaufort). I can’t make up my mind which the Sittow portrait looks more like – the mouth looks too wide to be either.

    I’d never looked into portraiture of Mary before finding this on Google, but it seems the two ladies looked alike. Lends a whole new level to the guilt Henry felt (or not) staying married to Catherine – did she remind him too much of his sister?

  33. Came across this interesting controversy whilst researching Michael Sittow. In St. Mary’s church in Fairford Gloucestrshire there are famous stained glass windows which are thought to have hidden portraits of both Catherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor, and all Henry 7th’s immediate family. It has been suggested(from glaziers marks) that the portraitist was Michael Sittow, and that maybe he came to London with Catherine’s marriage party in 1501. The Catherine pictured here as Virgin Mary has a big nose and quite heavy chin as in the Madonna and Magdalene pictures. The Mary Tudor picture has more delicate features wide brow and almond eyes – which might favour Mary Tudor for your portrait. Incidentally she’s wearing the latest Netherlandish fashion.

  34. If one compares this portrait to later portraits of C of A, this woman has a lower hairline and a smaller, non-Hapsburgian chin. She looks quite different, especially considering the hair colour. The nose does look like that of later C of A portraits. If one disregards the tradition, it appears to be a different woman. Whether it is Mary Tudor or not I can’t tell, but this young lady does not look like C of A ar all.

    1. Look at Sittow’s portrait of Mary Magdalene, long thought to be one of a young Catherine of Aragon. It’s the same face.

  35. Hi…. interesting article….. obviously from those days we have to rely on the accuracy of the artist’s portrayal of the subject’s features…. However I think I can see a family likeness between this work and the features on paintings of Henry VIII…..

  36. Sittow also painted a portrait of of a young Catherine or Aragon as Mary Magdalene. Compare that with this portrait, now said to be of Mary Rose Tudor. It’s the same face! Hw can it be Catherine in the latter instance, and now “Mary” in the former?

  37. Sorry, I meant, hw can it be Catherine as Mary Magdalene in one painting by Sittow, versus Mary Rose Tudor by Sittow, when the face is one and the same?

  38. I am Vahur from. Sittows homeland Estonia. I studied properly and compared those three portraits of young woman. Lady of Vienna, Maria Magdalena amd Madonna with child with bird. No doubt: model is the same young girl, aged less than 20. It means trouble for Matthews: he must rename all these 3 portraits for Mary Rose Tudor.

  39. Now that the new Tudor Exhibit is starting now in NY and traveling to Cleveland and San Francisco in 2023 I see the identification of the SIttow portrait as Mary Tudor. A couple of problems in that the article says “He also claims that a portrait of Charles’s sister Margaret (only copies of which exists), “displays the same pilgrim’s shells that can be seen in the Vienna portrait.” Charles V did not have a sister Margaret. Scallop shells were the symbol of pilgrims to Santiago. They also stood for spiritual protection. Charles V’s jewelry and medals have mostly a C not a K for his name and he signed it with a C. The K was for formal Latin spelling And, as for costume, the fact that her costume is close in style Joanna of Castile in 1500 and portraits from France and the Netherlands in the early 16th century, doesn’t convince me that it is Mary Tudor. I can be convinced that it is not Katherine of Aragon but her K initials along with Henry’s H are on entwined on his armour in The Tower of London. If it is a portrait of Katherine of Aragon then Mary I inherited her nose.

  40. In my haste I made a mistake in my comment as the C was the Latin for Carolus, not the K. I could not find a badge mentioned for Mary Rose Tudor but it should have been a rose. The receding chin of the sitter is similar to Isabella of Castile and Joanna of Castile. In any case, as you say, a dendrochronological dating of the panel would be helpful.

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