Unknown woman, formerly known as Margaret Tudor

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Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database

Unknown woman, formerly known as Margaret Tudor

by Unknown French artist
oil on panel, circa 1520
17 3/8 in. x 14 in. (441 mm x 356 mm)
NPG 1173


New Date: c.1520-1540

New attribution: Unknown French Artist

Key findings: The exact dating is uncertain, but likely to be in the range stated above. The attribution to Perréal remains uncertain. Underdrawing reveals the use of a pattern. The remarkable gold jewel showing a horseman appears to be a personal jewel and not St. George.

Historical summary
Purchased in 1898. This portrait was originally purchased by the gallery as Margaret Tudor. The identity of the sitter was soon questioned and no certain portraits of Margaret Tudor appear to exist. The picture had also previously been identified as Mary, Duchess of Burgundy and Catherine of Aragon. However, neither identity can be sustained.

The woman's gold medallion may ultimately help to identify the sitter. It has previously been considered to represent St. George and the dragon but examination under the microscope at low magnification reveals the medallion to in fact depict a horseman holding a hawk on an outstretched arm, followed by a second figure, perhaps a personification of death (see micro 10). Research into the significance of the medallion badge has indicated it is a specially commissioned jewel, rather than a medal belonging to a particular order.

Notes on likely authorship
The painting style appears to be French or possibly northern Italian. The picture has previously been attributed to Jean Perréal (c.1455-1530), although this attribution cannot be confirmed by the current study and remains problematic. Lorne Campbell's (National Gallery, London) view after examining the portrait in 2009, was that the former attribution to Jean Perréal needs further investigation.

Commentary on condition, painting style, technique
The painting is on a lime panel and has been extensively damaged by woodworm attack and the background is heavily worn and overpainted in many areas (see xray mosaic 01). In addition, the varnish is very opaque. The varnish and level of restoration partly obscure a comprehensive understanding of the painting style.

Much of the background and the present upper layer of the sitter's dress seems to be a later addition, largely consisting of mixtures of red ochre and black. Below this there is a slightly lighter layer of the same mixture. Above are traces of red lake which may have been the surface layer and colour of the dress in this area. The fluid painting style of this portrait, with integrated brushstrokes, and the tonal values strongly indicate a painter working in France.

Justification for dating
Evidence from paint sampling indicates that the original materials were all in use during the period 1520-1540. The painting style and costume would indicate that the picture dates from this period. It was not possible to undertake analysis by dendrochronology on this picture as the wooden support is lime and no comparative data currently exists.

Drawing and transfer technique
The existence of extensive underdrawing on this portrait indicates that the composition was carefully planned prior to painting. There are a number of changes to the design between the drawn and painted stages including: changes in the line of the hair, the profile of the head, neckline, shoulder and top of the bodice (see IRR mosaic 01). The alterations in the facial features between drawing and painting result in a sitter with a rounder and apparently slightly older face. The strength of the lines indicates that the design may have been transferred, either by tracing or via a cartoon. The pentimenti evident from the x-ray and infrared reflectography reveal the artist's fluid method of working and painterly style.

Relevance to other known versions
Uncertainty about the identity of the sitter has meant that it has not been possible to locate other known versions, although it remains possible that unlocated versions do exist.

Strong, Roy,Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.205-6


X-ray mosaic 01. X-ray image of whole paintin…
Micro 01. Eye (left side), showing fine brush…
Micro 02. Eye (right side), showing fine brus…
Micro 03. Detail of white head dress, with po…
Micro 04. Possible underdrawing beneath the h…
Micro 05. Detail showing a change in the posi…
Micro 06. Detail from the left hand edge of t…
Micro 07. Edge of bodice, showing the order o…
Micro 08. Bottom edge of panel, showing how t…
Micro 10. Detail of the design of the medal (…
Micro 11. Detail of the pearl (12.5 x mag).
Micro 12. Detail of wide chain with possible…
Micro 14. Edge of the drapery in the lower ri…
Micro 15. Detail of the the edge of the bodic…
Micro 16. Detail of the hair, showing the ord…
Micro 17. Detail of the nose showing craquelu…
Micro 18. The back of the neck, showing the c…
Micro 19. Detail of the lips, showing smooth…
Micro 20. Detail of wide chain in sideways-fa…

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The painting has much paint loss and visible restoration. The crack (see Support) and the corner losses have been filled and restored. There is a restored scrape across the neck and shoulder. The background green glaze is worn and the surface is overpainted in many areas.

There is fine vertical craquelure throughout, for example around the nose (see micro 17). There is a very dull and discoloured old varnish present beneath recently applied brush and spray varnishes (Wilson, 2007). Fine specks of gold are visible beneath the varnish in many areas, particularly around the edges and in the green background on the right-hand side, this may be associated with framing. The panel suffers from very severe woodworm damage.

A considerable amount of restoration is visible. Dull green, opaque overpaint can be seen in the background, over original green glazes. The diagonal damage across the neck and shoulder was poorly retouched but has been adjusted recently. Further diagonal scratches to the paint surface have been restored. There is large restoration to the lower left-hand (from front) corner over wooden addition. It is likely that further areas of damage and restoration are obscured by the thick varnish layers present on the surface.


Support type: Limewood

Number of boards: 1

Panel Orientation: Vertical

Panel condition observations

Mended split down the entire panel to the right of the head - repaired at the back with seven square buttons. Very extensive woodworm damage. Some wood loss - lower left-hand (from front) corner - repaired with wood addition and two wooden buttons.

Dendrochronology (what's this? )


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: 1

Last date of tree ring: n/a


The panel was made from a single thick tangential board, cut through the centreline of a tree of relatively lightweight wood. In order to identify the wood, microscopic cross-sections were taken from the board in three planes (radial, tangential and transverse). This analysis identified the wood type as Tilia: the lime or linden tree. This timber is considered unsuitable for tree-ring dating.

X-radiography (what's this? )


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.

1936 National Gallery: print x-ray of head, neck and upper chest only. No x-ray plate.

2007: x-ray taken of whole panel. Fluid flowing brushwork evident throughout (see x-ray mosaic 01).

Pentimenti: change in the shoulder line and costume neckline, back and front of the neck outlines and the cheek on the left. Alterations were made, probably between the drawing and painting stages, making the sitter's face and neck more rounded (see x-ray mosaic 01, Surface examination and Infrared reflectography).

The split (see Support) is evident down the whole panel to the right of the head, as is the rectangular wooden repair in the lower left-hand corner. The areas of damage and loss are also all visible in the x-ray image.

Infrared reflectography (what's this? )

Infra-Red Reflectographyclose

A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.

The dress, features and head dress all appear to be underdrawn. The bodice neckline may also have been underdrawn, although this is obscured by the position in which the dark drapery stops on the shoulder on the right and the pale bodice material begins (see IRR mosaic 01).

It is possible that the image may have been pounced and then reinforced with solid lines. Some lines are darker than others, as if drawn after transfer, e.g. the hairline where there seem to be black dots defining the shape. However, sometimes underdrawing can be disturbed by the application of oil paint layers, and this can create the appearance of dotted marks when viewed in infrared reflectography, thus giving a false impression of pouncing. In the case of this work, it is not possible to be conclusive.

There are a number of changes to the design between the drawn and the painted stages: changes in the hairline and profile of the head, the front and back of the neck, shoulder and top of the bodice (see Surface examination and X-ray). The alterations in the facial features, between drawing and painting, result in a sitter with a rounder, slightly older face; the face seems younger and more elegant in the underdrawing that in the final painting. These alterations are much clearer with infrared reflectography than in x-ray.

Paint sampling (what's this? )

Paint Samplingclose

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.

Preparation layers
The structure of the ground layers is that commonly found in paintings of this period. It comprises a very thick layer of natural chalk ground applied onto the panel, followed by a thin layer of bright priming composed mostly of lead white, but with traces of red lead and carbon black. This priming would have provided a pale but warm greyish pink underlayer for the paint (samples 1 and 4).

The colour of the sitter's dress was the subject of some speculation, since a reddish paint could be seen along the lower edge. Two cross-sections from the edge showed that red earth pigment was used in the paint in at least two layers, with traces of a third rich red layer of a more translucent nature over them. The present upper layer appears to be largely black or dark brown, and seems likely to be a later addition. A further sample was taken from the darker paint of the patterned dress, which also showed the same red earth underpaint, but no traces of another layer of red over it.

A sample from the upper left background shows all of the layers of the painting. At the lower edge of the paint fragment, a little wood of the panel can be seen still attached, underneath the thick chalk ground and the thin layer of priming. Over this there is a dark grey layer with a translucent green glaze over it. This manner of constructing a green background was commonly practised because the grey formed a cheap and suitable underlay for the copper green glaze. More lavishly painted portraits might use a green pigment for the underlay. In sample 1 the green glaze is in good condition and has retained its colour more fully than in many copper green glazes, which have a tendency to turn brown.

Surface examination (what's this? )

Surface Examinationclose

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
Fine, fluid and free brushstrokes are visible in the original paint. There are very finely painted details in the medallion, hair and eyelashes (see micro 01, micro 02, micro 11 and micro 19).

Changes to composition/pentimenti
Several pentimenti: changes in the line of hair and headdress, nose line, cheek on the left side, back and front of neck, chin and shoulder and chest line (see Infra-red reflectography and X-ray). These changes have made the face appear fuller. Changes in the eye, bodice line and the back of the neck have become more evident with time, as the paint has become more transparent.

Other observations
Large lead soaps are present in the lead-tin yellow.

There appear to be finger prints in the paint surface - one in the centre of the white head dress (at the level of the eyes) and another directly to the right of this in the dark headdress paint (see micro 03). In the irises of the eyes, azurite had been added to give them a greenish blue appearance. A little retouching can be seen around the outside of the iris imitating the older blue with a smooth modern one. Isolated large red particles are visible on the surface of drapery.

Order of construction
- Ground layer (natural chalk).
- Thin pale greyish pink priming as an underlayer for the paint (see Paint sampling) / Underdrawing (defining features and hairline - see micro 04 It was not possible to determine whether the underdrawing lies above or below the priming layer).
- Translucent layer (red lake and earth pigments - it appears more earth pigment was used under flesh tones).
- Flesh and hair.
- White part of headdress.
- Dark part of headdress.
- Features defined with thin, dark paint (black or brown).
- Shadows in flesh (see micro 19 for fine brushstrokes and use of red lake glaze in shadow in lips).
- Some highlights in flesh and hair.
- White trim to bodice.
- Black line outlining the top of bodice (see micro 07 and possible underdrawing beneath bodice-line in micro 15). Some areas of the black line defining the edge of the white trim on the bodice have been reinforced. The bodice was not painted to the lower edge of the panel in some areas (see micro 08).
- Dark drapery with red glaze beneath upper layers (see micro 14 and Paint sampling).
- Green background (see micro 06 and Paint sampling). The background appears to be partially overpainted - the original thin green glaze background is clearly visible in certain areas, particularly surrounding the figure of the left-hand side of the composition (see micro 06).
- Chains: lead-tin yellow employed in the light yellows of the chain and medal; the pinkish half-tones of the medal are also lead-tin yellow, but probably with a little red ochre or vermilion added (surface observation by Sheldon).
- Alterations to flesh paint, including neckline (see micro 05 and micro 18).

Lead white, carbon black, red lead, lead-tin yellow, copper green glaze, earth pigments, red lake, azurite

Ultra violet examination (what's this? )

Ultra Violetclose

A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.

Very opaque varnish meant that little was visible except for very recent restoration.


Frame type: Not original. Italianate frame.