2 of 9 portraits of Katherine Parr
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
attributed to Master John
oil on panel, circa 1545
71 in. x 37 in. (1803 mm x 940 mm)
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Key findings: Original dating confirmed. The picture can be linked to the same studio as Mary I, NPG 428 on the basis of handling. The technique is remarkable for its extensive use of silver and gold leaf and complex layering of oil paint and glazes.
This portrait was purchased by the Gallery in 1965 as a portrait of Catherine Parr, but the identity of the sitter was changed to Lady Jane Grey in the late 1960s. Following research published in 1996 the identity of the sitter has been reassessed and the traditional identification of the sitter as Catherine Parr has been re-confirmed (James, 1996). The portrait was originally at Glendon Hall, the seat of the Lane family. Glendon Hall once belonged to Sir Ralph Lane who married Maud Parr, a cousin and Lady in Waiting to Catherine Parr.
Notes on likely authorship
The painting appears to be by the same hand as Mary I (NPG 428) which has been associated with the artist Master John (active 1544-1550) as the result of a documentary source citing a specific payment. The artist 'John' cannot be formally identified but on the basis of technique is almost certainly a native English painter.
Commentary on painting style, technique
The painting style is orderly and well planned using a complex system of silver and gold leaf, glazes and oil pigment and additional gilding. The artist (and probably the original patron) demonstrates a particular interest in the exacting depiction of the cloth, the cut and pattern of costume and the specific design of the jewellery (see detail 05). Therefore, in representing what appears to be brocaded cloth of silver and gold, the areas of the bodice and dress are made up of layers of lead white, silver leaf, glazes, and raised lines of paint. To depict the raised pile on the surface of the brocaded fabric, loops of white paint were finished with sliver leaf to suggest silver threads catching the light. Black horizontal strips in the pattern compare closely with the technique of Mary I.
The technique of this painting is particularly distinctive. There appears to be a blue priming across the entire surface of the panel (evident on all paint samples). There is extensive use of silver and gold leaf, a technique that draws upon late medieval practice and may also relate closely to practice in the decorative arts. However, there is also some limited use of lead-tin yellow showing that the artist is aware of continental developments.
Justification for dating
The technique and materials in use are entirely consistent with a work from this period. Analysis of the wooden panel by dendrochronology revealed that the board with the most recent tree ring dates from 1516. This indicates that the tree used for this board was felled after 1524, with a period of about around eighteen years before the board was used in the making of this panel.
Drawing and transfer technique
The underdrawing is extensive and complex to decipher. The style of the drawing is free and sketchy, only very loosely delineating some of the form and structure of the figure, such as the sleeves. Lines can be seen in the eyes, hands and the white areas of the sleeves. The drawing in the hands does not relate directly to the painted surface and the original intention is not clear, but it is possible that the sitter was originally expected to hold some type of object (perhaps a book or glass), although this is very indistinct. This type of underdrawing, and its use in the construction of the painting, is in direct contrast to the underdrawing found in Mary I (NPG 428, also attributed to Master John) where the key elements of the composition are carefully transferred through a pounced technique.
A small number of changes to the final composition made by the artist are evident from x-ray and infrared analysis. The final features differ slightly from the underdrawing, particularly in the face. The key areas of changes to the composition (known as pentimenti) are as follows:
- eyes moved slightly to the right from original underdrawing
- upper necklace has been shortened nearer to the chin
- white puffs of fabric along the lower edge of the sleeves at the wrist have been extended by up to 10 mm
- hairline has be re-positioned and was originally slightly lower
- nostril has been re-positioned
- lowest pendant pearl of the upper necklace was originally higher
- pearl shapes beneath the white band of the undershirt at the top of the bodice are evident, indicating the bodice may have originally been slightly higher.
Relevance to other known versions
Several copies of this portrait exist including a full-length seventeenth-century version on canvas (location currently unknown), and a head and shoulders version (sold at Christie's in December 1954, lot 155).
Exhibition illustrative of Early English Portraiture, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1909, p.83 (No.29)
Cooper, Tarnya, A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2008, pp.14-15
James, Susan, 'Lady Jane Grey or Queen Kateryn Parr?', Burlington Magazine, vol. 138, January 1996, pp. 20-4
Strong, Roy, The English Icon: Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture, 1969, p.76 (No.13)
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.75-79
Strong, Roy, The Elizabethan Image: Painting in England 1540- 1620, Tate Gallery, 1969-70, p.21, (No.28)
Tudor Exhibition Catalogue, The New Gallery, 1890, p.39, (No.106)
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Compare high-resolution images against the painting - mainly x-ray and infra-red photography images, but sometimes UV or raking light images - side by side with the ability to zoom in on details.
The painting has a number of large losses and is heavily abraded in places, particularly in the face, hands, gold decoration on the red costume and the cameo faces on the chain hanging from the waist (see detail 02). The varnish is discoloured and relatively thick. There is cotton wool fluff caught in the surface of the varnish.
The retouchings are not particularly subtle and have altered in colour in some places. This is most noticeable in the silver brocade overskirt, which has a greenish hue in places because of poorly matched overpaint and discoloured varnish. There are small, fine, opaque retouchings in the fur and many of the white hairs down the edge of the silver skirt have been strengthened.
Number of boards: 5
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
The panel has been thinned considerably in the past, in the areas where the partial cradling is attached. This cradling is in three bands across the top, centre and bottom, with vertical members which vary in thickness. In all, there are 9 horizontal sliding members, some of which no longer move. In addition, there are 18 wooden buttons attached to the back, across the joins, and two long vertical pieces of wood which run down the centre of the panel, down the central join. The previous battening was removed, prior to the cradling, leaving some thinner areas of the panel exposed. Despite the discrepancies in thickness and the uneven assorted attachments to the reverse, the panel seems to be in a relatively stable condition, with only two serious cracks other than small ones seen at the edges. These cracks are located in the upper arm on the left side of the painting, and in the skirt below the sleeve on the right side of the painting, and are stable at present. The panel joins are slightly open but appear to be stable. The addition of the cradle has resulted in the loss of the original surfaces from the back of the boards, so that board thickness and bevelling details are no longer clear. Despite the level of intervention on the reverse of the panel, a cargo or merchant's mark can be seen on the back of board A (the furthest on the left when viewed from the back)(see Reverse 01).
An examination of tree rings, which can help to provide the earliest possible felling dates for the wood used for the panel. The technique can also indicate the geographical origin of the wood.
Number of boards: 4
Last date of tree ring: 1516
The boards were labelled A to D from the left for analysis (from the front). Boards C and D were derived from a single tree. The last ring present in the boards was dated to 1516 (board A). No sapwood was present at the outermost edges of any of the four boards so a terminus post quem date can be applied. Adding the minimum number of sapwood rings suggests that the tree used for board A cannot have been felled before 1524.
A technique used to identify changes in composition beneath the surface of the paint layers and to understand the physical structure of a panel or canvas.
A number of minor changes to the composition can be seen in both x-ray and infrared reflectography. The upper necklace has been altered slightly, making it shorter and closer to the chin. The x-ray also clearly shows how the sleeve puffs extending from the bottom of the red sleeves have been extended by up to 10 mm (see Surface examination). Parts of the x-ray are difficult to read due to the cradle on the reverse of the panel (see x-ray mosaic 01).
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Extensive underdrawing can be seen both in normal light (see Surface examination) and in infrared reflectography (see IRR mosaic 01 and DIR 01). The underdrawing lies directly over the blue priming, and it is difficult to determine whether it was carried out with a brush or a dry medium (see Paint sampling - Hassall sample 8).
Infrared reflectography shows that the underdrawing is very free and sketchy, delineating the form and structure of the sleeves. The looseness of the drawing suggests that the aim was to give only a general indication of the composition. Lines indicate the edges of the red sleeves and the edges of the individual fur pelts which make up the lynx-fur sleeves. Drawing can be seen in the hands, sleeves, and around the bulges of embroidered undershirt (sleeve puffs) pulled through slashes. Some drawn lines can also be seen under the eyes - particularly the left - suggesting shadows. The lines are relatively light compared with the underdrawing on Master John's portrait of Mary I (NPG 428), which has strong black outlines.
Changes to the composition/pentimenti:
In infrared reflectography it is clear that the hairline has been raised, the face made slightly fuller along the left-hand side, and the position of the nose altered. The headdress has been drawn in a sketchy manner.
The position of the lower necklace has been altered between the drawing and painting stages: in the drawing it is placed slightly higher up the shoulders. The large drop pearl at the bottom of the upper necklace has been painted lower than in the underdrawing. There are round or oval shapes (suggestive of pearls) drawn all around the bodice edge, in what is now the white edge of the undershirt. These correspond to the existing painted pattern below the white edge, but are drawn higher than at the painted stage.
The line of the top of the skirt, as glimpsed between the sleeve on the right and the bodice, appears to have been higher at the drawing stage. There is also a slight change to the overskirt to the left, where it originally came further over the underskirt. The drawn edge of the frilly white shirt cuffs is lower over the hands than the painted edge. The puffs of white embroidered undersleeve, where they are pulled through the richly jewelled red sleeves, are smaller than at the painting stage. The position of some aglets (tags) at the edge of the white puffs was changed at the painting stage. The bottom edge of the fur sleeves was drawn a little higher than at the final painted stage and the painted fur extends below the drawn line.
The underdrawing in the hands is difficult to interpret, although there seem to have been some changes here, or some difficulty in modelling the shapes. Such is the complexity of drawn lines in this area, that it has been suggested (see Technical observations report by Archbold) that Parr may have originally been holding a pair of gloves. However, there is no painted evidence for this.
Investigation into microscopic pigment samples or samples of other media in order to help with dating, to reveal the order of the paint layers and help to understand the painting techniques used.
Four samples were taken by Libby Sheldon in 2007 to gain further information following previous analysis by Catherine Hassall in November 1997.
Hassall found black particles of underdrawing (Sample 8 - see Hassall report) which appeared to be lamp black - the pigment used in ink (see Infrared reflectography and Surface examination).
The 2007 analysis confirmed that azurite has been generously employed on this painting. Not only is it used for the background, but also for a priming over the chalk ground which forms a cool underlayer and in parts forms cool shadows on the surface. For example, the azurite and white priming forms the shadows of the pearls on the centre of the sitter's costume. Some of the fur of the costume has been painted directly over the priming, leaving the latter exposed for some of the modelling of shadows. Hassall had noted the lead white and azurite priming as unusual. However, it was also found in the comparable portrait of Edward VI (NPG 5511). Samples from both paintings show a chalk ground, followed by a pale blue layer of lead white and fine particles of azurite. The top of the Parr portrait priming layer seems to be paler, or there is a pale layer applied on top, perhaps before it was fully dry. This layer has occasional particles of red lead scattered in it. In the similar priming layer of the Edward VI portrait, there are fine particles of brown, with traces of red, though the latter appear to be ochre rather than red lead.
Over the priming layers in the background of Catherine Parr, the lowest layer of the blue paint is a mixture of lead white and azurite: the particles are very large here, especially compared with the finer particles seen in the priming. In the background paint, these large angular particles almost give the appearance of being 'strewn' into the wet lead white. Their distribution is odd enough to suggest such a technique and the large size of the particles might have made it difficult to brush the paint on in a conventional way. The pigment smalt was sometimes also laid on using this method referred to as 'strewing blue' (see Surface examination).
The large, angular particles of azurite seen in the background here are very similar to the high quality pigment seen in the portrait of Edward VI (NPG 5511), and the structure of the background is also comparable.
A question has been raised about the possibility of glazes over the dress, but it was difficult to be sure of this. Close examination of the right-hand side of the skirt showed no signs of a glaze, but the azurite was obvious in parts and a white skim mentioned by Hassall would help give a cool effect. However, evidence that glazes have been present on the painting were found elsewhere, so it remains a possibility.
The green in the carpet (thought by Hassall to be azurite with no perceivable yellow) was sampled. This was found to contain azurite, and only traces of sienna or dark yellow ochre, which might give it its green hue. The azurite is of quite different quality and character from that of the background. The particles are small and rounded, rather than large and angular. However, they do not seem to be blue verditer (the artificial copper carbonate).
An examination of the construction of paint layers, glazes and condition often using a microscope. This method provides important evidence concerning an artist’s technique and paint handling and can reveal a specific artist’s characteristic painting style.
Painting style and method
A notable feature of this painting is the extreme richness of materials used in its construction - including a great deal of silver and gold leaf.
The pale blue priming contains lead white and large particles of azurite (see micro 14 and micro15).
A great deal of underdrawing can be seen with normal light and with infrared reflectography. In normal light, it can be seen on the turned back fur linings of the sleeves, where the paint has become more transparent with time and is slightly abraded (see detail 04). The principal elements of the composition were drawn with a carbon-based medium - possibly lamp black (see Hassall's report, Paint sampling and micro 19).
Paint layer structure
Use of azurite
Azurite is used extensively throughout the paint layers. The background is built up using a series of layers of azurite. The azurite is in large particles, and is of the highest quality and therefore expensive (see micro 13). Azurite is also used in the grey fur, in the white edging to the bodice, in the cameos on a chain, and as underlining to the eyes. In the white bodice edging, it is possible that the azurite may have been applied with a 'scattering' technique, i.e. by scattering the dry pigment over the white paint mixture when it was still tacky (see Paint sampling).
Costume and jewels
Much of the costume is painted over silver leaf. The areas where silver leaf was to be applied (almost the whole costume, except the fur sleeves and undershirt) were first underpainted with lead white, and the silver leaf laid over this on an oil mordant. Glazes were then applied over the leaf to prevent tarnishing, although in a few places, the silver leaf has oxidised and blackened underneath the subsequent layer of red glaze (see sample 4 of Hassall's report).
Underskirt and sleeves
The red underskirt and sleeves were painted in a complex system of layers over the silver leaf: firstly a thin red glaze, then a layer with earth pigments and another layer of red glaze. Ochre was then used again to mark out the embroidery pattern, giving the paint a three-dimensional quality, and ensuring the crispness of the outlines. Further gilding was then applied to pick out the individual stitches (see micro 07, micro 08 and micro 10). Detail in the gold stitching was defined with fine brush strokes in a dark transparent brown glaze, and the red of the underlying skirt and sleeves was carefully defined with further red glaze. This glaze can be seen at the edges of some of the details where it has overlapped the gilding. Much of the surface of the gilding has suffered abrasion and in many parts only the earth pigment mordant remains. Consequently, much of the three dimensional quality and the surface texture of the skirt has been lost. Light catching on the gilded detail would have given a sense of movement to the cloth. The same has happened in the details of the overskirt (see below). The pearls attached to the embroidery were painted last, using a mixture of lead white and carbon black (see micro 20).
Cloth of silver overskirt and bodice
In the cloth of silver overskirt and bodice, black horizontal lines were painted over the silver leaf to simulate the texture of the fabric. These were applied with a fine brush with extreme accuracy in a manner similar to the method used for the horizontal red lines in the bodice of Mary I (NPG 428). Whereas the red horizontal lines on the portrait of Mary I appear to have been carried out in oil paint, and are slightly raised, the black lines on this portrait are flat. On close examination, small bubbles, 'beading', in the paint imply poor adhesion between the lines and the paint layer beneath (see micro 05). This may indicate that the black lines were painted using finely ground lamp black. On top of the black lines are small white loops, suggesting silver threads catching the light. Remnants of silver leaf can be seen on some of these white thread loops, although most of it and the mordant has been lost (see micro 06). The 'shot' effect seen in the overskirt was achieved by reversing the dark and light patterns on either side of the dress. The pattern on the darker right side was achieved by drawing the black lines more heavily. On the left, the lines are lighter and it appears that there are more white loops here than on the other side. The extreme edges of the skirt appear to have a brownish glaze, applied to suggest the round contour of the shape.
Jewels and headdress
The jewels were created with the use of glazes over gold leaf, although gold decoration was also simulated using yellow ochre and lead-tin yellow pigments (see micro 20) This can be seen in the headdress, where gold leaf was laid over a yellow mordant of ochre and white, but lead-tin yellow and ochre appears to have been used also to imitate gold (see micro 21).
It seems that there was a coloured pattern along the edge of the white undershirt at the top of the bodice. With optical microscopy, slightly raised paint can be seen, applied in a pattern, probably originally similar to the cuffs (illustrated in Sheldon's report).
The edges of each coloured area in the carpet pattern were softened and blended with fine wet-in-wet brushstrokes, in order to give the appearance of wool (see micro 11).
There is an interesting use of both old and perhaps more contemporary techniques: the skilful detail in the costume with the use of expensive gold and silver leaf and gilding, which is relatively archaic, is combined with the fine brushwork detail in the cameos, the fur and the carpet which seems closer to more contemporary Netherlandish practices. Awareness of contemporary practices seems apparent also in the depiction of gold in the headdress jewels. Gold leaf was used over a mordant of yellow and white to depict gold but a very small amount of lead-tin yellow has been used also to imitate gold, perhaps showing influence from continental Europe techniques (see Hassall's report).
Order of construction
- White chalk ground
- Pale blue priming (see above)
- Lead white as an underlayer for silver leaf and also beneath red underskirt
- Face and hands in thin layers of white, vermilion, ochre and umber
- First layer of blue background
- Silver leaf over almost the whole costume (see above)
- Glazes over the silver leaf, to prevent tarnishing
- Red glazed underskirt, sleeves and headdress:
Pale red lake glaze over the silver leaf
Second layer of red lake glaze
Ochre mordant for embroidery
Ochre and white mordant for headdress
Gold leaf over mordant on headdress (see above)
Gold leaf on stitching in the red dress, and lead-tin yellow in headdress highlights
Dark brown glaze defining detail of gold stitching
Further red glaze for definition
- Silver overskirt and bodice:
Outline of the brocade on the silver overskirt and bodice drawn in black
Alteration: extension of the sleeve puff under sleeve on the right side of the painting, which runs over brocade outline but not horizontal lines
White loops over the black horizontal lines
Silver leaf on white loops
Glazes to suggest shadows
- Further layer of the blue background
- Feathery brushstrokes to finish the fur on the sleeves, extending over the background (see micro 12) (Some of the fur hairs have been reinforced with restoration)
- Red embroidery pattern on white undershirt (see micro 09)
- Anchoring pins or toggles (aglets) on the sleeves, where they are fastened over the white puffs of the undershirt, were painted over the skirt design
- Final adjustments to the features and jewels (see micro 20)
Lead white, carbon black, azurite, lead-tin yellow, red lead, vermilion, red lake, earth pigments, yellow ochre, vermilion, silver leaf, gold leaf
Changes to the composition/pentimenti
It can be seen with surface examination that the white puffs of the undershirt along the bottom of the red sleeves were extended over the design already painted on the silver skirt. The fur sleeve linings were extended on each side over the blue background, which had already been painted in. Many changes were made to the composition between the drawing and painting stages (see Infrared reflectography).
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
Ultra violet light shows extensive restoration in the background and in the flesh paint. The varnish appears a little opaque which masks some of the old restoration when viewed with ultra violet. The carpet paint on the addition at the left edge appears darker than the original paint.
See this portrait
On display in Room 1 at the National Portrait Gallery