Queen Mary I
1 portrait on display in Room 1 at the National Portrait Gallery
- Tudor and Jacobean Portraits Database
Queen Mary I
by Master John
oil on panel, 1544
28 in. x 20 in. (711 mm x 508 mm)
Key findings: Original dating confirmed. The picture can be linked to the same studio as NPG 4451 on the basis of handling and technique. The use of a pattern has been identified in infrared reflectography and microscopy.
Previously owned by Blanche Brocas (d.1862) of Beaurepaire House, Hants. Sold in the Beaurepaire House sale at Christie's in 1876 and purchased by the Gallery from Henry Graves & Co. in the same year. The Pexalls of Beaurepaire were supportive of Mary while she was princess. Sir Richard Pexall's daughter married Bernard Brocas of Horton, Bucks. The portrait may have been given to the Pexalls or purchased soon after it was painted.
Mary is seen here in 1544 as princess; she was proclaimed queen on the 16 July 1553. The picture may be the portrait paid for in November 1544 and recorded in the Privy Purse expenses of the Lady Mary: 'Item, pd to one John that drue her grace in a table' (Madden, 1831, p.168). The jewel hanging from her necklace may be identical with one of those sent by Henry VIII in 1542: 'A flower wt five great diamonds, ij. Rubies, oon Emerawde, and a great ple pendunte' (Madden, 1831, p.176).
Notes on likely authorship
The artist 'John', mentioned in the expenses of Lady Mary (above), cannot be formally identified although he has been identified with the title 'Master John' (active 1544-1545). He may have been the same goldsmith who witnessed Holbein's will in 1543, who perhaps worked in the master's studio and painted in his style (The Dictionary of Art, 1996, p.610). The formula seems Holbeinesque, although the flatter painting style and the handling and technique indicate a native English painter. It was once attributed to Joannes Corvus (d.1546) but this attribution can no longer be supported.
Commentary on painting style, technique
The materials and style can be compared with NPG 4451 Katherine Parr, particularly the use of expensive and sumptuous materials. Also, the painting of the hair and costume is very similar in both portraits. In certain areas of the patterned bodice, a thin layer of white was painted after the gold leaf and glazes, in order to block in some of the decorative elements. Pink horizontal stripes (composed of madder and lead white) were then carefully painted over the thin white layer, before the final white loop threads with silver leaf were added. The silver leaf is now heavily abraded and these small loop threads now show only remnants of silver leaf. This is a technique which very closely relates to that identified in the portrait of Katherine Parr.
Justification for dating
The painting is inscribed on either side of Mary's head and dated: 'ANNO DNI.1544 LADI MARI DOVGHTER TO THE MOST VERTVOVS PRINCE KINGE HENRI THE EIGHT THE AGE OF XXVIII YERES'. The date of 1544 is entirely consistent with the technique and materials used in the work. The inscription has been confirmed as an original part of the picture.
Dendochronology has indicated that the panel derives from a tree which is unlikely to have been felled before 1531.
Drawing and transfer technique
The black underdrawing is highly visible in many areas, including the eyes, nose and along the edge of the red sleeve on the right arm. The drawing along the outline of the shoulder and sleeve on the left seems to be made by pouncing, which is also seen in the pearls in the headdress.
A small number of changes to the final composition made during the painting stage are evident from x-ray and infrared analysis: the outer edges of the red lower part of the sleeves have been widened a little on the sleeve on the right and more on the sleeve on the left.
Relevance to other known versions
No other contemporary versions are known.
Several later copies exist including:
- a version by Sir Frederick Ponscriby, Collection of Mrs J Laidlow, Salem, Oregon, USA
- a version after Master John, sold Christie's 6 Sep 2001
- a version called Queen Mary Tudor, attributed to Antonis Mor, property of Mr Winston F.C. Guest (Sotheby's 8 Dec 1965, lot 64)
The Dictionary of Art, 1996, vol. 17, p.610
Exhibition Illustrative of Early English Portraiture, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1909, p.45
Carter, Alison, 'Mary Tudor's Wardrobe', Costume, vol. 18, 1984, pp.9-28
Cooper, Tarnya, A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2008, p.45
Drey, Elizabeth Ann, 'The Portraits of Mary I, Queen of England', MA report, Courtauld Institute, 1990
Hearn, Karen, ed., Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, Tate Gallery, 1995, pp.47-8
Madden, Frederic, Privy Purse Expenses of the Princess Mary, 1831
Marshall, Rosalind, Mary I, 1993
Strong, Roy, The English Icon: Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture, p.76 (No.12)
Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, pp.208-213
Strong, Roy, The Elizabethan Image: Painting in England 1540- 1620, Tate Gallery, 1969-70, pp.21, (No.27)
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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 panel is backed with balsa wood and wax/resin, which is covered with canvas. There are serious old splits and cracks in the wood. There is a long history of paint flaking and paint consolidation. There are also raised cracks in some areas, probably with blind cleavage. The portrait has undergone extensive restoration, with fills and inpaints, which are rather broadly applied and clearly visible, but have not discoloured. There are large areas of restored paint and ground losses particularly in the costume in the lower left quadrant, in the flesh paint (especially the hands), down the panel join, and in the lettering at the upper left. There is much abrasion in the blue background, covered in places by dark residues of old overpaint and opaque light areas of mismatched more recent restoration. The varnish is clear and has not discoloured. It has a semi-matt and uneven surface. There is considerable restoration over the wear in the background and in the areas of paint and ground losses. This is broadly executed and a little mismatched but reasonably acceptable visually. Crack lines are drawn in with pencil in the flesh paint on the shoulder on the left. The gilding has been restored in the sleeve on the right, the upper part of the bodice, and a little in the sleeve on the left.
Number of boards: 2
Panel Orientation: Vertical
Panel condition observations
The condition of the panel is poor. Both boards have been thinned heavily and backed with a modern balsa support, with thin strips of modern oak screwed into all four edges of the balsa wood. During examination, one of the pieces of oak was unscrewed and removed, revealing that the original board edges are in particularly poor condition.
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: 1523
The board edges of this two board panel are in particularly poor condition, making analysis difficult, however both contained sufficient tree rings for analysis. The last tree ring identified (found in board A) was dated to 1523. No sapwood was present on either board so a terminus post quem date can be applied. Adding the minimum expected number of sapwood rings suggested the tree used for board A was felled after 1531. As the two boards are from the same tree (see X-ray), no analysis on board B was necessary.
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.
X-ray examination showed that the two boards of the panel are derived from the same tree: the wood grain in the x-ray images can be overlaid to yield an almost perfect match.
The x-ray shows the extensive damages and loss which have been overpainted (as noted in Ultra violet, and Conservation history) (see X-ray mosaic 01).
The broad brushstrokes of the priming layer can be seen in x-ray.
The red sleeves are very dark in the x-ray image (i.e. transparent to the x-rays), which supports the observation of layers of madder glaze directly over the pale priming (see Surface examination). This could be the reason that the changes to the outlines of the red sleeves do not show up clearly in the x-ray.
The screws holding the battens to the edges can be seen clearly in the x-ray image, and there are some possible remnants of old nails/fittings embedded in the wood.
A technique used to observe the layers beneath the paint surface which can reveal underdrawing and changes to the initial design.
Infrared reflectography showed drawing along the outline of the shoulder and sleeve on the left, with pouncing (see IRR mosaic 02 and DIRR 01). This was also seen round the pearls in the headdress (see IRR mosaic 01).
Underdrawing is visible along the original edges of the lower sleeves (see also Surface examination and X-ray).
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.
Sheldon re-examined Hassall's samples. Paint samples were taken and analysed by Libby Sheldon in July 2007. This supported and added to sampling observations from reports by Catherine Hassall in 1997, and Joyce Plesters in 1975.
All Sheldon's samples had a trace of white ground, and her findings supported the suggestions from 1997 and 1975 of a chalk ground.
One of Libby Sheldon's samples contained what could be a thin pale priming layer, but nothing conclusive. No priming was found in 1997 or 1975. There is no blue priming layer as was found on the portrait of Catherine Parr (NPG 4451).
A sample taken (1997) from the line of the original edge of the sleeve on the left shows a very dark layer over the preparation layers and under the red paint. It was concluded that this is charcoal underdrawing, and this was supported by Libby Sheldon in 2007.
Gilding on the dress
Hassall found this to have a mordant layer of yellow ochre and lead white under the gold leaf (see also Surface examination). Over the gold leaf is a layer of red lake also containing some vermilion and carbon black. Hassall concluded that the presence of lead white suggests that the ochre/white mixture is an oil paint layer, making oil gilding the most likely technique.
A similar ochre/white mordant is used under the gold on the headdress.
Decoration on dress
Sample 5 taken by Hassall from one of the loop stitches shows the ground and mordant layer under the gold leaf, then over the gold a thin layer of lead white, a pink layer made up of madder and lead white, and finally the white layer of the stitches. No silver leaf (see Surface examination) was seen in the cross-section. Both the white layers also contain carbon black of plant origin, which has the effect of giving the white a cool, bluish tone.
Hassall found that there are two layers of red paint over the ground in the wide sleeves: the lower layer contains red lake, vermilion and black (as seen over the gilded dress), and the upper layer is pure red lake. Sheldon sampled the wide grey cuff in the lower left, and found that these two layers are present under the cuff. The upper layer was identified as madder by its bright orange fluorescence in ultra violet light. The red lines on the bodice were found to be the same red lake as used in the sleeves (2007 analysis).
The flesh paint is made up of lead white and vermilion (Hassall, 1997). The shadow between the fingers was found to be red lake with carbon black and a little blue (Sheldon, 2007).
Sheldon sampled a tassel from the lower right, which was found to be made up of an aggregate of fine particles.
Samples were taken from the background in 2007, 1997 and 1975.
Hassell's samples found a layer of azurite and white (over the chalk ground), and then an upper layer containing azurite. The azurite is of very good quality, with large particles. Libby Sheldon confirmed the use of azurite (in the background and scattered in the shadows of the blue/grey sleeve), and also found particles of malachite in the background. It is possible that the source of azurite for this painting was one which had an unusually high proportion of malachite amongst the blue azurite. A similarly high proportion of malachite was seen in background of the portrait of Catherine Parr (NPG 4451).
Samples taken by Plesters, through the inscription, found a layer of azurite over the chalk ground, and over this an orange/brown bole made up of red/brown ochre and some vermilion, in oil. On top of this is the gold leaf of the lettering. Plesters noted that the gold leaf would probably have been applied to the bole while it was still tacky.
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 materials and style can be compared with Katherine Parr (NPG 4451), with the use of expensive and sumptuous materials.
See reports by Jenny Archbold and Catherine Hassall.
Paint layer structure
The ground is composed of a single layer of white chalk (see Paint sampling).
It is not clear with surface examination whether there is a priming layer, but the broad brushstrokes of a thin lead based priming layer can be seen in x-ray and a separate thin pale layer was found in one sample (see Paint sampling).
Underdrawing is clearly visible with both the naked eye and the microscope in many areas, including the eyes, nose and along the edge of the red sleeve on the left. In the face, the drawing might have been deliberately utilised to delineate the features and create variations in tone and shadow. This has no doubt been emphasised by the increase, with time, in translucency of the oil paint. A sample taken from one of the strong black outlines on the sleeve on the left (see micro 03) by Hassall in 1997 indicated the drawing might be in charcoal (see Paint sampling).
Flesh and hair
The eyes, nose and shadow under the line of the chin (see micro 20) were painted with very smooth, blended brushstrokes, applied wet-in-wet, and azurite can be seen in the whites of the eyes (see micro 10 and micro 11). The painting of the hair is very similar to that seen in the portrait of Katherine Parr (NPG 4451) (see micro 12 and micro 13). It was applied in very fine, smoothly blended brushstrokes, with pale highlights added.
Red lower sleeves
Layers of red glaze were used to create the colour of the crimson fabric (see Paint sampling - Hassall), The white priming can be seen beneath the glazes, and in some areas has a slightly 'crazed' appearance.
During the painting stage the outer edges of the red sleeves were extended (see below).
A number of flecks of gold leaf were noted beneath the red glaze (see micro 19). It was thought that these might indicate that these sections also had metal leaf below the paint, as in the bodice, but on close inspection it was found that these specks are probably remnants of the gold from the edges of the bodice, accidentally brushed into the sleeve areas during the painting process.
After the gold leaf and glazes, in certain areas of the patterned bodice, a thin layer of white was painted in order to block in some of the decorative elements. Pink horizontal stripes were then carefully painted over the thin white layer, before the final white loop threads were added (see also Paint sampling). Silver leaf was then applied to some or all of the small loop thread details, but this is now heavily abraded, and the loop threads now show only remnants of silver leaf (see micro 01). This technique very closely relates to that identified in the portrait of Katherine Parr (NPG 4451).
A very rich green pigment (possibly verdigris) can be seen in the green gem of the ring.
Gilding - dress, headdress and jewels
Areas left for the embroidered bodice and upper sleeves, the headdress and the red gems in the brooch, pendant and aglets were prepared with gold leaf laid over an undercoat of yellow ochre and white. The gold leaf in the bodice overlaps with subsequent paint layers in the adjacent sleeves and flesh paint (see micro 04). The gold of the bodice, upper sleeves and headdress then had an orange/red glaze applied over it. Further layers of glaze were also used to increase the richness of tone and shadow (see micro 02). Examination of the painting through a microscope showed a yellowish glaze (or varnish) over the uncovered parts of the gold.
The rubies at the upper edge of the headdress, and the edging adjacent to the hair were originally mordant gilded (gold leaf over an ochre-coloured mordant). Although now abraded, some fragments remain (see micro 14).
The original blue (azurite and some malachite - see Paint sampling) of the background (now much abraded and restored - see Conservation history) is very thin and it can be seen that the paint layer was originally thicker: examination of the edges of the lettering shows that the blue paint layer beneath the letters is thicker than in the surrounding abraded background (see micro 06). It seems that overpaint (containing the nineteenth century pigment Viridian) applied to the already abraded background, was removed by scraping - small scrape marks can be seen over much of the surface - although some fragments remain (see micro 08). This scraping probably also thinned the original paint. Discolouration of the original blue background medium, making it become greenish, could explain the use of green for the nineteenth century overpaint. The original background appears blue now because the top surface has been scraped off when the overpaint was removed.
The gilding of the inscription is underpainted with a mixture of red/brown ochre with a few particles of vermilion. The gold was applied to this when it was still tacky (see 1975 report by Joyce Plesters - National Gallery). The gold leaf is now heavily abraded.
Order of construction
- White ground
- Thin pale priming layer
- Underdrawing in carbon black - appears to be charcoal
- Pale blue underlayer beneath background (composed of lead white and azurite - see Hassall's report)
- Gold leaf under bodice, headdress, upper sleeves and jewels (see above)
- Red glaze on bodice, upper sleeves, headdress and jewels (see above)
- Details of the decorative pattern on bodice as described above - paint and silver leaf
- Red lake sleeves (micro 03 and micro 04)
- Flesh paint (micro 20)
- Jewellery (see micro 16, micro 17 and micro 18)
- White cuffs, with red lake detail and slight impasto in white paint to give the impression of textured fabric (see micro 05 and micro 16)
- Hair (micro 12 and micro 13)
- Pearls on headdress
- Background - applied over the pale blue underlayer (see above)
- Lettering over the blue background, with an orange/brown underpaint for the gilding (see above)
- Final strokes of hair paint over the background (micro 13)
Lead white, charcoal black, plant black, azurite with some malachite, vermilion, red lake (madder), earth pigments, verdigris, yellow ochre, silver leaf, gold leaf
Changes to composition/pentimenti
The outer edges of the red lower sleeves were widened, a little on the sleeve on the right and more on the sleeve on the left. Underdrawing can be seen along the original edges of the red sleeves, both with surface examination and with infrared reflectography (see Infrared reflectography and X-ray).
The dark grey edging threads along the top of the bodice appear to be entirely non-original (see micro 15). Fragments of black paint beneath the dark grey are probably remnants of the original edging threads, although this is not certain.
Lead soaps can be seen in the white.
Many random particles of azurite can be seen in the white parts of the costume.
A method which helps to reveal past restoration and the extent of varnish layers.
Under ultra violet light, the extensive restorations noted in the Conservation history can be seen as dark areas, over the varnish. Large sections of the shoulder on the left and arm have been almost entirely overpainted, as have the areas around the eye on the left and the central join/split. Very many dark dots of retouching are visible in the background.