Unknown woman, formerly known as Mary, Queen of Scots

1 portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots

Unknown woman, formerly known as Mary, Queen of Scots, by Unknown artist, circa 1570 - NPG 96 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Unknown woman, formerly known as Mary, Queen of Scots

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, transferred to canvas, circa 1570
37 7/8 in. x 27 5/8 in. (962 mm x 702 mm)
Purchased, 1860
Primary Collection
NPG 96


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Sitterback to top

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This portraitback to top

This portrait was once considered to represent Mary, Queen of Scots. However, the sitter's features bear no similarity to known portraits of Mary. The ornate costume and abundant jewellery indicate that this is a woman of great status, but her identity remains unknown.
Gloves and jewels were commonly given as betrothal gifts, and it is possible that this was a marriage portrait. The young woman is portrayed as an object of love, set against a lyrical landscape. Objects in the portrait may have symbolic significance. The jewel at the woman's neck shows Venus and Cupid, and the matching jewelled cases in the woman's left hand and at her breast show a classical column set against a wheel of fortune, which perhaps symbolises endurance in the face of changing circumstances. The imagery reflects that found in Shakespeare's sonnets, but perhaps is at odds with the reality of arranged dynastic marriages, a common practice amongst the aristocracy at this time.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG D13196: Unknown woman, formerly known as Mary, Queen of Scots (after)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Cooper, Tarnya (introduction) Banville, John (character sketch) Chevalier, Tracy (character sketch) Fellowes, Julian (character sketch) McCall Smith, Alexander (character sketch) Pratchett, Terry (character sketch) Singleton, Sarah (character sketch) Trollope, Joanna (character sketch) Waters, Minette (character sketch), Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People, 2011 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from December 2011 - June 2012), p. 11
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 46
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 688
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 217

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top