Friday, October 10, 2008

Question from Diane - Holbein painting formerly called Catherine Howard

I've got a question about the Holbein portrait called "Unknown Woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard" (NPG 1119) that is now at Montacute House. This is the portrait where the sitter is wearing a simple black or very dark green gown with gold trim and a high collar. It has a Latin caption in the background giving her age as 21. I've read that this sitter might be Jane Seymour's sister but never how this theory was reached. How was it determined that it wasn't Catherine and who proposed it?

[ed note - this is the portrait in question]

4 comments:

PhD Historian said...

If the sitter depicted in the portrait was indeed 21 when the painting was done, it is less likely to be Katherine Howard. While Katherine Howard's date of birth is not firmly known, it is generally thought that she never reached the age of 21. There is, however, considerable room for debate on this issue.

Elizabeth Seymour is believed to have been born between 1511 and 1514, which would make her 21 at or about the time that her sister Jane became involved with Henry VIII. Thus she was more or less the right age to be the sitter depicted.

Hans Holbein definitely did portraits of Jane Seymour. The family connection makes it more likely that Elizabeth had access to him in order to have her own portrait done.

The sitter is wearing black, which has been interpreted to mean that the sitter is a widow. Katherine Howard had not been married before, but Elizabeth Seymour was a widow at age 21. However, black was not worn ONLY by widows, so this evidence is a bit questionable, in my opinion.

Historian Antonia Fraser also argues that there is a familial physical resemblance between Jane Seymour and the sitter in the portrait, suggesting that they are related. Again, I think this is very subjective evidence. Some sisters look nothing alike, while non-related girls often share striking similarities.

I think the NPG is very correct to leave the identification as "Unknown Woman."

TudorRose said...

I think that this portrait that has been incorrectly identified as catherine Howard is in fact Elizabeth Seymour sister of Jane.
Because if you look at what the sitter in the portrait is wearing the lady is wearing what you call widdows weeds which means she is in mourning, mourning the death of her husband and also the woman resembles Jane.In Antonia fraser's book on Henry viii and his six wives she states this. She makes a note of the fact that you can see a resemblance in the nose and the chin and also about the error in identification.

olivia said...

i agree, i beleive katherine never reached 20, in fact, let alone 21.

GarethR said...

Roy Strong in his two volume study of royal Tudor and Stuart portraits did say that the portrait in question was in the descendants of the Cromwell family, making it even less likely to be Catherine Howard (given the role her marriage had played in Thomas Cromwell's downfall.) This is one of the reasons why it has been suggested as a likeness of Elizabeth Seymour, also, since Elizabeth married Thomas Cromwell's eldest son, Gregory. It's on this basis, coupled with the admittedly subjective physical guesswork, that Lady Antonia suggested the sitter was Elizabeth Seymour. Personally, I think that guess is as good as any. However, as the hasty identification of a Horenbout miniature of a woman in a golden gable hood as Anne Boleyn shows, we should be wary, I feel, of jumping too conclusions. (A paper I completed at Oxford argued that the Horenbout miniature in question is not Anne Boleyn, but far more likely to be either her sister Mary or her sister-in-law, Jane. In the course, I did look at the "Unknown Lady" once known as Catherine Howard and I agree the caption should still stand as "Unknown," or "(?) Elizabeth Cromwell (nee Seymour.")