Catherine of Aragon – Queen of England
The recent conservation of a rare early portrait of Catherine of Aragon, which is on long-term loan from Lambeth Palace, has presented the Gallery with the opportunity to display portraits of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon together as a pendant ‘pair’. The two works, from around the same date, are of a similar scale with a similar green damask background, and it is likely that they are both examples of portrait ‘types’ that would have been placed together in this way, nearly five hundred years ago.
However, Henry VIII is notorious for marrying six times, with the identities of his wives occasionally reduced to the rhyme: ‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died / Divorced, Beheaded, Survived’. As a result, displaying the portraits of Henry and Catherine together makes an interesting statement about their relationship within the context of the other portraits in Room 1, particularly those of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr, his second and sixth wives.
By the time these paintings were produced Henry had already recognised his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, and he would begin his relationship with Anne in 1526. Henry and Catherine’s marriage was finally annulled in 1533, and although Catherine considered herself to be the only rightful queen until her death in 1536, bringing these images together regenerates an iconography that Henry went to great lengths to unpick. With each new marriage the traces of his previous wife would be erased from the decorative heraldry that adorned practically every surface in the Royal Household. It is notable that of all his wives there are only portraits of Jane Seymour, who bore him a male heir, and Catherine Parr, who survived him, listed in the inventory of his possessions taken after his death. Nonetheless, Catherine of Aragon was his queen for nearly twenty four years, and was perceived and portrayed as such across the country. Therefore, it seems fitting to reunite the pair in these two remarkable portraits dating from the time of their marriage.
Image credits (top to bottom)
Catherine of Aragon, by an Unknown artist, oil on panel, c. 1520, L246. By permission of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church Commissioners.
Henry VIII, by an Unknown artist, oil on panel, c. 1520, NPG 4690
As part of the display Henry and Catherine Reunited