Unknown woman, formerly known as Mary, Queen of Scots

1 portrait

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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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)

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Current affairs

Pope Pius V issues a Papal 'bull' excommunicating Queen Elizabeth I from the Catholic Church. The bull provokes widespread anti-Catholicism in England. Elizabeth contemplates marriage with either Charles, Archduke of Austria or Henri, Duke of Anjou.

Art and science

Publication of The Scholemaster by the royal tutor Roger Ascham, which popularises the educational views of the English nobility. The mathematician and antiquary John Dee's preface to the first English translation of Euclid's Elements of Geometrie anticipates the experimental science of the seventeenth century. The Italian architect Andrea Palladio published I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture).

International

Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye ends the Third War of Religion in France. Huguenots (French Protestants) are granted religious freedom and the Huguenot leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny becomes a dominant force at court. The Treaty of Stettin - Denmark agrees to recognise the independence of Sweden and Sweden abandons its claim to Norway. Ivan IV (the Terrible), Tsar of Russia, oversees the Massacre of Novgorod.

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