English School, mid C16th, Portrait of a lady thought to be Queen Elizabeth 1 holding a pink and a white rose, in a later tabernacle frame
Lot 53*
English(?) School, circa 1580 Portrait of a lady, apparently representing Mary Queen of Scots,
Sold for £60,000 (US$ 93,888) inc. premium

Lot Details
English(?) School, circa 1580
Portrait of a lady, apparently representing Mary Queen of Scots, half-length, in black costume with a white lace collar, wearing a crucifix and holding the roses of York and Lancaster
oil on panel
57.8 x 37.5cm (22 3/4 x 14 3/4in).

Footnotes

  • PROVENANCE: 

    Said by the Ephron Gallery to have been brought to the United States in the nineteenth century by an English lady who was gifted the picture by a family of English officers, from whom possibly:
    Purchased by Mr. C. E. Baillie of Glencoe, January 1882 (according to a 
label on the reverse)
    Ephron Gallery, New York
    Purchased from Ephron Gallery by Mrs. Redfield, circa 1940s
    Alee B. Sanford, Jackson, Missouri
    Acquired by Louise Sanford by descent in 1977
    Bequeathed to Les Williams, Houston, Texas, by Louise Sanford
    Purchased by the present owner from Les Williams in 1994

    Until recently the present portrait was thought to represent Elizabeth I and a portrait purported to be of this Queen in the Museum Schloss Fasanerie bei Fulda has strong facial similarities (Flemish, circa 1580, oil on panel, 52 x 48 cm.); as does the better known Sieve or Siena Portrait (dated to circa 1580-83, attributed to Quinten Metsys the Younger in the Pinacoteca di Siena). There are, however, marked inconsistencies with the iconography that is associated with portraits of the English champion of Protestantism, most notably the prominent crucifix that she is wearing. The roses of York and Lancaster that the sitter is holding do, however, suggest a claim to the Tudor throne and interestingly, together with the collar, dress and crucifix, the composition relates to an image representing Elizabeth's cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, that was engraved by George Vertue in the early eighteenth century (see fig. 1). This was after an original painting that was purported to be by Federico Zuccaro (although more recent thinking has placed it in the circle of Alonso Sanchez Coello or alternatively Frans Pourbus II). While the subject for the original portrait of this engraving (known as the Carleton Portrait, now in the Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth) has been questioned, due to the fact that the crucifix was not original to the portrait, the discovery of the present portrait and the coincidence of certain elements of composition that were well known in the representation of Mary Queen of Scots, would indicate that there was indeed a sixteenth century original for this particular composition, whose iconography was associated with the Catholic claimant to the English throne.

    The fruitwood panel, gypsum ground and X-radiography (indicating an earlier portrait of a mother and child beneath the present portrait), all suggest a Spanish origin for the panel. While the only portraits from the period of Mary's captivity that are believed to have been taken from life are two portrait miniatures by Nicholas Hilliard, which must date from his return to England from France some time between August 1578 and April, 1579, there is documentary evidence that portraits of the Queen were in circulation at this time among her friends and supporters. In January 1575 Mary had written to James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow, her envoy in France: 'There are some friends in this country who ask for my portrait. I pray you, have four of these made, which must be set in gold, and sent to me secretly ...' (see Helen Smailes, The Queen's Image, a celebration of Mary Queen of Scots, exhibition catalogue (Edinburgh, 1987), pp. 39-40). A further letter from the 31 August from her secretary, Claude Nau, at Sheffield Castle to the Archbishop in France states: 'I had hoped to send with the present portrait of her Majesty, but the painter was not able to bring it to perfection before this despatch; it will come with the next.' A further image of the Queen was engraved in a political tract of 1578 by John Lesley, Bishop of Ross. It has been suggested that this must have been copied in Innsbruck from a likeness of the Queen that Lesley took with him on his political mission. This image, which shows a more elongated face for the Queen, appears to have been the foundation for a number of life-size portraits which bear the date 1578 and are collectively know as the Sheffield series. Although it has been argued that these paintings dated from the Jacobean period, in his recent article for the Burlington Magazine, Jeremy L. Smith argues that such images must have had an earlier source and could not have served any political purpose for the Queen's son, James I. Such a blatantly Roman Catholic-tinged image, replete with the Queen's dynastic claims would never have been suitable for James's purpose of rehabilitating the reputation of Mary in the anti-Catholic aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. Indeed, the same might be said of a medal by Jacopo Primavera showing the Queen in profile and inscribed 'MARIA STOVVAR REGI SCOTI ANGLI IA. PRIMAVE'. The reference to her being Queen of England would once more suggest that it was cast during her lifetime (see Helen Smailes, p. 42).

    Following Sir Roy Strong's widely accepted theory concerning the political purposes of royal portraiture in this period, it is not so much the physical appearance of the sitter that is of first importance, especially given the difference in the way in which Mary's face was shown in early depictions, but rather the political message such a portrait had to offer. The period surrounding 1578 would therefore seem a likely date for the image of a pious Catholic queen, claiming her right to rule to be circulated among her supporters. This was precisely the time that a powerful alliance of Roman Catholic forces was beginning to rally, culminating in Philip II of Spain launching the Armada in 1588 in the year following Mary's execution (see Jeremy L. Smith, 'Revisiting the origins of the Sheffield series of portraits of Mary Queen of Scots', The Burlington Magazine, vol. CLII, number 1285 (April, 2010), pp. 212-218).
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