1 of 11 portraits of Katherine Parr
attributed to Master John
oil on panel, circa 1545
71 in. x 37 in. (1803 mm x 940 mm)
Purchased with help from the Gulbenkian Foundation, 1965
Sitterback to top
- Katherine Parr (1512-1548), Sixth Queen of Henry VIII. Sitter associated with 11 portraits.
This portraitback to top
For a time the sitter in this painting was thought to be Lady Jane Grey. However, there is considerable evidence to support the traditional identification as Katherine Parr, including the distinctive crown-shaped brooch, which can be identified in an inventory of jewels belonging to the queen. In this painting the artist used a complex system of silver and gold leaf, glazes and oil pigment to imitate the luxurious cloth of the queen's costume.
Linked publicationsback to top
- I-Spy National Portrait Gallery, 2010, p. 6
- Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 18
- 100 Portraits, p. 19
- Audio Guide
- Smartify image discovery app
- 100 Pioneering Women, p. 20 Read entry
Katherine Parr (1512-1548) was Henry VIII’s sixth wife and the only one of his queens without either a royal background or previous court service when she married him. When, in 1544, the King led a military expedition to France, he appointed Katherine as regent-general and she presided, to the displeasure of some, over the regency council and ruled in the King’s name. She was a patron of the King’s printer, Thomas Berthelet, and promoted the art of bookbinding with her orders for books in stamped leather, coloured velvets and enamelled gilt. She was also heavily involved in educational patronage and seems to have played a part in the publication of a reading primer for children (1544-5), and influenced her husband in the foundation of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1545, she published Prayers or Meditations, which featured five of her original prayers, including one for men going into battle. It was the first work ever published by an English queen.
- Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 108 Read entry
The sixth and last wife of Henry VIII, Katherine Parr married the king at Hampton Court on 12 July 1543. The following year, she was appointed Governor and Protector of the Realm when Henry renewed war with France and was absent from England for two months. She was the first English queen to publish a book under her own name; Prayers or Meditations was published in 1545 and The Lamentation of a Sinner in 1547. Katherine helped to improve the lives of Henry's children, who seem to have developed a genuine affection for her; Princess Elizabeth made a translation of Prayers or Meditations into Latin, French and Italian, as a New Year's gift for her father. After the king's death, Katherine married Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley (Jane Seymour's brother), but died a year later shortly after giving birth to a daughter. The sitter can be identified in this portrait by the distinctive crown-shaped brooch, which is listed in an inventory of Katherine Parr's jewels. She is lavishly dressed in fabrics that were restricted by sumptuary regulations, such as the silver 'cloth of tissue' of her gown and the lynx fur of her sleeves. These have been carefully rendered by the artist using a complex system of gold and silver leaf, glazes and oil paint to depict the sheen of the metal threads used in the textiles.
- Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 109
- Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 10 Read entry
Henry VIII’s sixth and surviving wife, in all her richly textured splendour. The crown-headed brooch at her bosom, detailed in an inventory of her jewels, was how this portrait was identified.
- Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 14
- Cooper, Tarnya; Fraser, Antonia (foreword), A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2012, p. 15 Read entry
This portrait of Henry VIII's sixth and last wife provides good examples of both the style and the components of a high-ranking woman's costume in the early Tudor period. The rich colours and fabrics adorned with pearls, gold and silver thread; her sumptuous lynx fur sleeves; and the elaborate array of jewels all indicate the sitter's wealth and status. The crown-headed brooch pinned to her dress appears in a surviving inventory of Catherine Parr's jewels. The wide square neckline was fashionable at this date and shows off her pale and delicate skin tone.
- Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of The Tudors, 2006, p. 14
- John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 14 Read entry
Once thought to show Lady Jane Grey, we are now certain that this is Catherine Parr, based on the study of royal jewel lists, one from 1542, one from 1550, and one undated. These show that the crown-headed jewel worn on her breast belonged to Catherine and the girdle of cameos may have been inherited from Catherine Howard. Lady Jane Grey is unlikely to have had access to these jewels.
- Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 35
- Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 45
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 109
- Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 75
- Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 37 Read entry
Katherine Parr was the sixth and last wife of Henry VIII, whom she married in 1543. Kind and affectionate to Henry’s children from his previous marriages, she appears to have been influential in restoring both Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession. She was particularly interested in the medium of portraiture and all Henry’s children were painted during Katherine’s time as queen.
For a time the sitter in this painting was thought to be Lady Jane Grey. However, following research, the traditional identification as Katherine Parr has been re-asserted. This portrait is associated with the artist Master John (active 1544–50). He has paid particular attention to the depiction of the textiles and jewellery, using a complex system of silver and gold leaf, glazes and oil pigment in order to imitate the expensive and luxurious gold and silver cloth of the Queen’s dress and gemstones. The distinctive crown-shaped brooch can be identified in an inventory of Katherine’s jewels.
- Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 91
- Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 89
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1545back to top
Current affairsThe French fleet makes an invasion attempt on England. The pride of the English fleet, the Mary Rose warship is sunk during the engagement with the French, killing over seven hundred men.
Art and scienceThe artist John Bettes the Elder paints A Man in a Black Cap. The artist's nationality is emphasized in the inscription faict par Johan Bettes Anglois (made by John Bettes, Englishman).
The Dutch artist William Scrots arrives in England and becomes the principal court painter.
The first botanical garden in Europe is established in the University of Padua.
InternationalThe Council of Trent convenes. Summoned by Pope Paul III and running until 1563, the council reasserts the doctrines of the Catholic Church in answer to the Protestant Reformation. It is one of the principal events of the Counter-Reformation.
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