Unknown woman, formerly known as Mary, Queen of Scots

1 portrait matching 'npg96'

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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

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Unknown artist, Artist. Artist or producer associated with 6578 portraits.

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)

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Events of 1570back to top

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).


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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Linne Moore

18 September 2021, 01:12

Hi there...I was having a look at this beautiful portrait and I was struck by its uncanny resemblance to Anne Boleyn...The character features I note are...1..The black eyes,the left smaller than the right...2 the bent hook nose with the small nostrils, and her narrow chin that has a hooped crese,shaping it below the mouth,and the dimpling in profile on the right side.,the very long fingers,and beautiful hands.By observation I also note that a lot of tudor portraits are stylized,painted not necessarily as as total reality,
but how the sitter wished to be represented, or to convey a symbol,My guess is that its either...another portrait of Anne Boleyn, a stylized portrait of Elizabeth,as Anne Boleyn,perhaps a way for her to keep a portrait of her mother close,or even Elizabeth herself, as even though she was around 60 at the time,she was incredibly vain.Another possibility is that perhaps it was at one point an unfinished portrait of Anne with only her face completed...it does sit a little oddly with the rest of the painting.Also I note that the face bears resemblance to the hidden face in the portrait of Elizabeth that was x-rayed...Intriguing ,but I hope this helps.

Graeme Cameron

15 February 2021, 10:43

Initial Contact - Interim Research Courtesy Note in Advance : As a service for the benefit of Britain's Art and Historical Heritage - Our 2020 - February 2021 continuing research, resulting from the rediscovered 1536 "Personal Portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn of England", has revealed this portrait to be of "Lady Catherine Howard, Countess of Nottingham" closest friend for 44 Years and First Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth Ist, and Wife of Lord High Admiral Earl Charles Howard. Painted Circa 1575 London, using most of the unique elements of "Queen Anne Boleyn's rediscovered Personal Portrait", of 1536 Whitehall Palace, London.

The research findings including the physiognomic concordances, her rank, but more significantly almost all its other Dress features, support its sitter being a circa 1575 “A Portrait of Lady Catherine Howard, Countess of Nottingham”, First Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth I. Its Artist, whom research has further putatively identified, as a most probably a very early ‘naïve’ work, eg Note its disproportionate Left Eye c/f to Lady Howard's later 1592 Portrait by Robert Peake the Elder.

Robert Peake has comprehensively based, by copying to smallest detail, almost all of the Dress and Accoutrement features of “Queen Anne Boleyn’s 1536 Portrait”, with just a few variations of Crucifix Jewel, etc. It would not have been possible for its artist, whether Peake or close contemporary, to have so faithfully duplicated most of its features in such accurate detail, without actually having “Queen Anne Boleyn’s 1536 Portrait” "insitu" with him in London, circa 1575, to have copied them so well in Lady Catherine Howard’s circa 1575 portrait, thus verifying the Howard's ownership of it at that time.
It confirms the subject London 1536 “Personal Portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn” must have been purchased circa1575 by Lady Catherine and/or Earl Charles Howard, being almost certainly be that same work dispersed from Rev Mathew Parker’s Lambeth Palace, London Estate in the same year. This uniquely rare linkage and the Howard’s Portrait's circa1575 dating make a most compelling case.
Irrespective, whether or not the "Parker" work, this work was in the Howard's possession Circa 1575.

Research is continuing, however to view the images, please refer my twitter site graemecameron2.