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Unknown woman, possibly Lady Arabella Stuart

1 of 6 portraits of Lady Arabella Stuart

Unknown woman, possibly Lady Arabella Stuart, by Unknown artist, circa 1595-1600 - NPG 1723 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Unknown woman, possibly Lady Arabella Stuart

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, circa 1595-1600
7 3/8 in. x 5 1/4 in. (187 mm x 133 mm)
Purchased, 1914
Primary Collection
NPG 1723


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This intriguing image has traditionally been identified as Lady Arabella Stuart due to its similarity to authenticated portraits of the Scottish noblewoman. Arabella was a direct descendant of Henry VII and, as such, represented a rival to Elizabeth I's monarchy. The costume, hairstyle and facial likeness to other portraits indicate that this identification may be plausible.
It is not clear what purpose this small scale painting on paper was originally meant to serve. The honeysuckle in the sitter's right hand could be interpreted as a traditional symbol of love. It is possible that the painting was intended as a love token. However, it could also have been one among a series of other small scale family portraits displayed as a group to demonstrate dynastic links.

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. 23
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 689
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 302

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1595back to top

Current affairs

The Nine Years War begins in Ireland. The Earl of Tyrone leads an uprising against the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. He appeals to the Catholic Philip II of Spain for assistance. Spanish ships land in Cornwall sparking fears of a new Armada. They burn Penzance and Mousehole but then flee. The Jesuit poet and Catholic martyr Robert Southwell is executed for treason. His Saint Peter's Complaint and Other Poems is posthumously published.

Art and science

Sir Walter Ralegh sets out on a voyage to Guiana (now Venezuela) to find the mythic land of 'El Dorado' where there was said to be large amounts of gold. His search is unsuccessful. Sir Francis Drake sails for the West Indies. William Shakespeare writes Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream at about his time. Portrait of the poet and clergyman John Donne is painted at about this time.

International

Battle of Fontaine-Française- Henry IV of France defeats the Spanish army and the remnants of the French Catholic League under Charles, Duke of Mayenne. Sigmund Báthory, Prince of Transylvania and Michael the Brave, Prince of Wallachia defeat the Ottoman army at the Guirgevo (in present-day Romania). Mehmed III succeeds Murad III as Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

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