Katherine of Aragon
4 of 17 portraits of Katherine of Aragon
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
Katherine of Aragon
by Unknown artist
oil on panel, early 18th century
22 in. x 17 1/2 in. (559 mm x 445 mm)
Dendrochronological analysis and pigment identification showed that the painting dates from the eighteenth century.
The portrait was at Lee Priory, near Canterbury, in the collection formed by Thomas Barrett (1698-1757) and sold at Christie’s on 28 May 1859 (lot 74). It was purchased by the Gallery from Haines & Sons in 1863.
This picture is an eighteenth-century version of a portrait type that derives from a widely circulated portrait pattern of Katherine of Aragon. The likeness appears to date from around 1530, based on costume.
Notes on attribution
The artist is unknown, but it is likely that the portrait was produced in England in the early eighteenth century.
Justification for dating
The techniques and materials are not consistent with a work from the sixteenth century. Dendrochronological analysis showed that one of the trees used to make the wooden panel support was felled at some point between 1649 and 1675. The blue in the background is Prussian blue, a pigment that was invented in the early eighteenth century, and it has the appearance of an early type with well defined edges. The results of technical analysis therefore suggest that the painting was produced in the early eighteenth century.
The paint surface is in good condition and has a distinctive craquelure that is not characteristic of early portraits.
The panel was prepared with two layers of lead white ground; there is no chalk ground. The portrait is painted with simple brushwork and with little modelling, which gives it a flat appearance with none of the subtlety and blending observed in earlier portraits. Gold leaf was used on the columns in the background, but shell gold was applied on the sleeves and for the highlight detail on the pendant jewel and the headdress, a method which is not typical of early portraits.
Drawing and transfer technique
There is no apparent underdrawing, but outlines appear to have been roughly sketched in with paint.
Other known versions
A very similar version of the portrait is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Most of the surviving versions were produced for sets of English kings and queens.
Other versions are at:
- Royal Collection, RCIN 404746
- The Deanery, Ripon - part of a set
- Hardwick Hall
- Merton College, University of Oxford, MCPo/65
- National Museum of Wales
A similar likeness is found in contemporary miniatures
- NPG L244
- Buccleuch Collection
There are also versions of the composition in which the sitter holds a monkey:
- a rectangular miniature in the Buccleuch Collection
- Christie’s, 7 December 2011 (lot 181)
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, London, 1969, pp. 39-40
‘Fernando II de Aragón’, Comunidad Autonóma de Aragón, Zaragoza, Spain, 2015
The condition of the paint surface is good. Numerous retouchings are evident, although well matched. A distinctive craquelure pattern is evident, particularly in the background, which has exposed the white preparation layer below. The varnish is clear and even. The panel is structurally sound.
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: 2
Last date of tree ring: 1649
The two unequal boards are connected with a tongue and groove joint. For the purposes of analysis the boards were labelled A and B from the left (from the front). Sapwood is present on both ends of Board A, which means that a felling date range can be applied to this panel. Board A has a marked curvature in the wood grain and the ring sequence matches against German regional reference series. The date of the last identified ring is 1649 and the lower edge retains 14 sapwood rings. Adding the minimum and maximum expected number of sapwood rings suggests a felling date between 1649 and 1675. The series from Board B remains undated by this analysis, as it does not consistently match English, western European or eastern Baltic reference series.
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 single plate x-ray was taken of the upper left-hand quadrant. The x-ray does not reveal anything due to the presence of a thick lead white preparation layer. A second plate was taken at a greater exposure, but the result was the same; no further plates were taken.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Infrared reflectography did not reveal any notable technical details or underdrawing. There was a lot of reflection from the lead white preparation and the visible detail corresponds to the paint surface.
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.
Paint samples were taken to analyse the pigments and layer structure of the painting in June 2010.
The preparation consists of a double lead white ground, with a translucent interlayer between. No chalk ground was identified with paint sampling. Examination and analysis showed that both layers consist of the same type of lead white, containing both lumpy and fine particles. The upper lead white layer has a slightly yellow tint, caused by the addition of some yellow ochre, while the lower layer is brilliant white. Beneath the blue background, the upper ground layer has a markedly yellow hue, achieved by the presence of yellow ochre in the lead white. The transparent layer between the two is largely unpigmented, although occasional particles of red ochre and black were observed. This layer may perhaps be an accumulation of dirt, or evidence of a drawing layer.
Sample 2: Cross-section taken from the gold column in the upper-right corner contains a higher proportion of black particles in the transparent interlayer, suggesting it may be a drawing layer.
Blue background and jewel in headdress
Sample 3: Cross-section taken from the blue background shows the mixture is composed of prussian blue and lead white. The prussian blue identified is of the early type, with well defined edges. As prussian blue was not invented until 1704 and was not commercially available on a wide scale until the late 1720s, the presence of this pigment provides us with an earliest possible date for the painting. The blue jewel present in the headdress was also found to contain prussian blue (see sample 4).
Yellow from jewel on bodice
Sample 5: Dispersion taken from this area shows the yellow is a mixture of good quality yellow ochre and lead white. Some umber from the underlying layer is also present in the sample. No additional yellow pigments were identified in this painting.
Sprig of leaves
Sample 6: The sprig of leaves was sampled and found to be composed of a mixed green. The pigments identified were principally prussian blue and yellow ochre. A good proportion of red lake was also identified in the sample, which would have provided the green with a translucent brown shadow.
Sample 7: In cross-section the dark brown of the sleeve was found to contain umber and traces of yellow ochre.
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
The portrait is painted with simple brushwork and with little modelling which gives it a flat appearance. Gold leaf was used on the columns in the background and shell gold was applied on the sleeves and for highlight detail on the pendant jewel and the headdress. The handling of the brushwork, the method used for the jewels and the use of shell gold, together with the presence of prussian blue indicate that the portrait is not a contemporary Tudor painting, but was painted in the eighteenth century.
The painting was prepared with a double layer of lead white, with a transparent interlayer between. No traditional chalk ground was identified (see Paint sampling). There is no apparent underdrawing but there is a pink outline around the pendant jewel, applied before the pale flesh paint, where the outline has been roughly sketched in with paint. A similar sketched preliminary outline can be seen at the junction of the hand and cuff on the left, where the contour was sketched in brown paint. (see micro 17).
Face and eyes
The flesh paint is quite paste-like with visible surface brushstrokes and quite a stiff brush appears to have been used (see detail 01 and micro 03). The flesh paint was built up quite thickly in layers and there is none of the subtlety and blending observed in earlier portraits. There are fresh lead soaps on the surface which have not been abraded or removed during cleaning campaigns (see micro 09), unlike sixteenth century portraits where lead soaps removed by abrasion have left small pits in the paint surface.
The face was laid in at an early stage with a mixture containing lead white, vermilion, some black, a little ochre and red lake. The flesh contains a quite bright yellow which may be ochre. There are blue particles, which seem to be prussian blue in the palest flesh tones. The shadows and definition are created by the addition of dark paint and glaze layers, rather than using the colour of the underlayer as a mid-tone (see micro 03).
The irises of the eyes were laid in with a pale brown, before dark grey and black were applied. The eyelashes are defined with a thin brown glaze painted into the flesh paint below whilst it was still wet. A higher proportion of vermilion, black and red lake was used for the warm tones which define the eyes, nose and lips (see micro 01 and micro 02).
Costume and jewels
The bodice decoration and headdress were simply painted using earth pigments; no glazes were used. The blackwork edge to the bodice was thinly applied above white paint and this appears to have been abraded a little during past cleaning (see micro 10). The pearls on the bodice are simply painted, using pale grey above the black costume paint. The pale grey is more thickly applied in the highlights (see micro 11). The jewels are rather clumsily painted, with thickly applied highlights and occasional dabs of gold leaf (see detail 04, micro 12 and micro 13). The highlights are painted with good quality yellow ochre and lead white. Shell gold was used on the sleeves and the highlights on the jewels and headdress (see micro 06 and micro 08), and the detail on the sleeves was then achieved by the application of an orange/brown glaze above the shell gold (see micro 16).
Sprigs of foliage in the hand
The paint mixture contains green and yellow pigments, which are quite bright and appear to be fairly modern (see micro 14 and micro 15) The pigment mixture here also contains white and black.
The background appears to be painted with a mixture containing prussian blue, black, and some yellow (see micro 17). There is a fine craquelure which has exposed the white priming beneath; the cracks are very clean looking and there is no apparent discolouration of the oil or the priming layer where it is exposed, which is not characteristic of an early painting. The columns on the background are gilded with gold leaf, and glazed in parts with a thick brown translucent paint. There are wide drying cracks present in the glaze layer (see micro 05).
Order of construction
- There does not appear to be a chalk ground layer
- Pale priming, lead white with black
- Flesh paint in the face
- Gold lead applied to the columns
- Further flesh paint
- Costume: shadows painted first, followed by highlight and detail
- Sleeves and hands, shell gold on the sleeves, detail on the shell gold: all painted wet-in-wet
- Sprigs of foliage in the hand
- Pearls and jewels
Lead white, black, vermilion, red lake, yellow ochre, earth pigments, prussian blue, gold leaf, shell gold
Changes in composition/pentimenti
No changes in the composition are apparent.
There are numerous well matched retouchings. The varnish is clear and even.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
An old resin varnish layer with a green fluorescence is visible under ultra violet light (see UV 01). The varnish is very patchy in many areas and appears smeared in the background, indicating that the painting has been cleaned selectively. The varnish has been almost completely removed from the central figure but remains on some darker passages of the costume. There are scattered retouchings across the panel, especially around the edges. The columns in the background look very unusual with strongly fluorescing green varnish around the edges and a dark purple layer with a very streaky appearance. The restoration on the columns appears dark in ultra violet light.