Lady Jane Grey or Mary Tudor when princess?
Neither beauty of the sitter nor the art value of the portrait itself is really worthy of interest, however, it gives an interesting look into a society she lived in. Our unknown lady whose identity remained invisible, is uncommonly thin young woman, dressed in splendid, rich but ascetic attire worn in Tudor Era in England. She could be a daughter of hight rank English nobleman, or even Mary Tudor, queen of England when princess. To descry the true identity of the sitter let the painting speak for itself. It itself contains much visual evidence including the sitter's clothing, jewellery, and physical appearance that allow to identify the sitter as Lady Jane Grey (1537-54), the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, duke of Suffolk and 3rd marquess of Dorset.
Lady Jane Grey also called "Nine Days Queen," was very intelligent and excellently educated young woman. She spoke and wrote Greek and Latin in the age of eight; French, Hebrew and Italian in the age of thirteen. When she was 15 years old she was married to Guildford Dudley, son of powerful lord chamberlain John Dudley. She was also the tragic victim of her time. After the death of Edward VI on July 6, 1553 for short time she gained considerable courtly attention. Being protestant and the great-granddaughter of Henry VIII she became perfect candidate to the throne of England. In May and June of 1553 Jane's father, Sir Henry Grey and his allay Lord High Chamberlain John Dudley struggled to set aside Mary Tudor's, the older daughter of Henry VIII, legal rights to the throne of the dying Edward VI. On July 10, 1553, Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen of England. The country, however, considered Mary Tudor as a rightful ruler. Nine days later, on July 19, 1553 she was deposed by Mary Tudor, who became queen of England. Jane, her husband, her father and her father-in-law and were imprisoned in the Tower of London. She and her husband were accused of treason and both were beheaded on February 12, 1554. At the time of her death she was only seventeen. She was an innocent victim of unscrupulous, corrupted, power-hungry politicians.
For long, long time it was thought that the sitter for this splendid and sensitive portrait of "Unknown Lady" painted by Hans Eworth in a manner consistent with sixteenth-century conventions of portraiture depicts an effigy of Mary Tudor, Queen of England, as princess. The hanging sleeves and the small neck ruff of the sitter's costume prove the portrait was painted between 1550 - 1555. Mary came to the throne in 1553. However, if Mary I was a sitter the artist has flattered her, by showing her as a young woman. Mary was born in 1516, and by the time the portrait was painted she was in her late thirties, most likely between 34 - 39. Moreover, the sitter wears no wedding ring. Mary was married to Philip II the Spain in 1554. Last years, however, reveals new circumstantial evidence to believe that the portrait shows effigy of Lady Jane Grey not Mary I Tudor.
No life-portrait of Lady Jane Grey is known to exist but the items of the sitter' clothing and jewellery brings us a clues to her identity. The richness of her gown adornments, the quality of her jewellery including numerous pearls of excellent beauty, several big diamonds and other precious stones, four gold rings on her fingers (two gold rings on the left index finger, one on the right index finger, and one on the left fifth finger), the pendent prayer-book, and the religious in theme brooch on her chest suggests that the sitter was the daughter of wealthy person, probably a high ranking nobleman.
In the past times, especially in Renaissance Europe, the marriage was the most common reason for painting of a woman's portrait. These portraits were painted to reveal to the potential suitors the physical beauty, the woman true virtues, and social attributes of prospective brides, especially among noble and royal families. It is worth to note, that pre-marital portrait of the perspective bride was often as a inseparable part of the betrothal negotiations.
At the time the portrait was painted there were approximately forty-eight titled nobles in England. These men had fewer than a dozen eligible, still unmarried daughters. One of them was Henry Grey. He had three unmarried daughters: Jane, Katherine and Mary. The status and wealth of seventeen years old, still unmarried after 1553, Lady Jane made her worthy of portrait by Hans Eworth, court painter to Edward VI and his successor, Mary Tudor. A three-quarter length portrait of Lady Jane depicts her as uncommonly thin, hollow-cheeked, devout, ascetic, humorless, prematurely aged young woman. Her sombre dress, made of the black silk trimmed in black velvet without gold brocading or extensive embroidery so adorned at her time, gives her very sad, nervous, and austere look. The standing collar of her gown is lined with white and edged with gold lace. Her chemise frill is edged with black, and around her neck is a collar with gold and black embroidery on a white ground. The red under-sleeves are edged with gold lace above an embroidered ruffle at the wrist, itself edged in black. Fourteen pairs of aigrets are visible, each black enamel on gold. A bracelet of interlocked and figured gold squares encircles her left wrist. On the bodice she wears magnificent brooch in shape of medallion. The medallion depicts the Old Testament story of Esther.
The Eworth's depiction of young lady is consistent with the description of Lady Jane left us by her contemporary, courtier and princess Battista Spinola. She described Lady Jane as very small, remarkable thick young girl, with nearly red hair, light hazel eyes, and unhealthy appearance, which Battista concluded, was a result of a series of illnesses she suffered.
She wears the pendant prayer-book. The pendant prayer-book is very rare feature in European painting.
It tells us about religious, almost devotional habit of the sitter.
It also offers the most telling clue to reveal her likely identity.
The painter of this portrait has been identified as a Flemish painter, Hans Eworth (1520 - 1574). Unfortunately, our knowledge about his life is very sketchy. We do not know for sure who his teacher was, but he became a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1540. By 1545 he had moved from Antwerp to England, where he lived and worked until his death in 1574.
In 1553 Eworth became the principal court portrait painter to the Catholic queen Mary Tudor. During her reign (1553 - 58) he made a number of single portraits of eminent sitters, during his lifetime he made about 35 paintings, portraits and allegories. About 30 of his paintings survive, almost all portraits of English nobility, including 5 portraits of queen Mary Tudor. The large majority of his portraits commissions came from Catholic patrons. His portrait painting style shows the influence of a number of artists active in England at his time, but only Hans Holbain the Younger, one of the greatest of all portraitists, had the strongest influence on his portrait compositions. Eworth borrowed Holbain's poses and motifs, his careful depiction of the costume details, texture of the silk, satins and brocades, as well as background interior design. Most of his works are signed with HE signature.
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