Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Question from Marilyn R - Catherine of Aragon or Mary Tudor Brandon?

There is a very interesting article on the Anne Boleyn Files site about Michael Sittow's portrait of the young Catherine of Aragon really being of Mary Tudor, Henry’s sister. What does anyone think about the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna having taken the decision to re-identify the sitter?


Roland H. said...

One can argue that it is Katherine of Aragon, as 'K' (as in the gold letters of her necklace) was the standard medieval/Tudor English spelling for 'Katherine' (as opposed to 'Catherine').

Also, if the 'K' stood for the Emperor Charles, shouldn't it be 'C' for the Latin 'Carolus', not 'K'?

Any Latin experts here? Was 'K' also used for 'Charles' (as in 'Karolus')?

PhD Historian said...

Thank you, Marilyn, for alerting us to this important re-identification. Fascinating.

Roland, spelling was often phonetically-based in the sixteenth century, though Latin spelling was more standardized than was English. Yet one often sees in the Germanic countries the use of K, which is always pronounced the same (/k/ in phonetics symbols), in place of the English or Latin C, which has more than one pronunciation ... /k/ and /s/. Think Kaiser vs Caesar. And Charles was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire ... a largely Germanic region. The German for Charles is Karolus. Charlemagne was known in the Empire by the Germanized Latin 'Karolus Magnus'. So the argument that the Ks in the necklace refer to Charles/Karolus V is entirely plausible.

PhD Historian said...

Marilyn, I finally got my hands on Dr Matthews's actual article about the portrait. He makes an interesting argument, but there is still one small issue that he over-interprets plus one very big issue that he totally fails to address: the scallop shells on the dress and the presence of the halo behind and above the sitter's head.

Matthews argue that the scallop shells bordering the bodice of the gown are a reference to the Spanish patron saint of St James of Compestela, because pilgrims to his shrine often carry such shells. However, scallop shells also have a more general, less regionally-specific symbolism as emblems of the Roman Catholic faith. For example, the dish used to pour water on the forehead of an infant being baptized into the Catholic Church is often a silver or silver-gilt scallop shell. Matthews may be over-reaching in assuming that the scallop shells are necessarily a reference to Spain and St James rather than a general marker of faith, especially since the latter ties so nicely with the halo.

As for the halo itself, he mentions it only in description, but says nothing about whether it is an original part of the portrait or a later addition. Neither does he make any effort to explain why a living (and young) person would be depicted with a halo in a formal court portrait. Yet the presence of the halo utterly defies sixteenth-century artistic norms. They were used only in depictions of saints (who by definition were deceased), never living persons. Yes, there are a number of portraits said to be "So-and-so in the guise of Saint Somebody", but as Matthews notes in his own footnote #40, most of those have been re-identified as fictional depictions of the saint and otherwise unconnected to the "So-and-so" that the pictures were once thought to depict. It is quite possible that the halo was added much later (after 1536), but only if the person depicted is Katherine of Aragon, a woman noted for her religious piety. Mary Tudor had no such reputation as a pious woman, so a halo on her portrait would have been totally inconsistent with her reputation, and literally bizarre (even potentially heretical) in the context of a living person of such a young age. That Matthews totally fails to address this issue is very odd indeed.

I am inclined to think either that the portrait is actually Katherine of Aragon and the halo was added after her death in 1536, or that the portrait depicts some as-yet-unidentified saint that is neither Katherine nor Mary. I think the latter is more likely.

Marilyn R said...

PhD, what surprises me is that it was not until the early twentieth century that this was said to be Katherine of Aragon, and the artist was not identified as being Sittow until the 1930’s. I had always assumed it had come down the centuries as a definite portrait of her, by him. In my mind, if the Juan de Flandes is Katherine, then the Sittow can’t be. The mouth on the Flandes portrait is very like portraits of the queen in later life, so I am inclined to agree with you that the Sittow in question is neither Katherine of Aragon nor Mary Tudor, and represents someone else altogether - the same model he used for the Magdalene and the Madonna and Child, perhaps?

PhD Historian said...

Marilyn R, I do not know how extensively the Vienna portrait has been studied using scientific methodologies, so I do not know how well-supported the Sittow attribution actually is, beyond issues of the artist's "technique". But one need only look at the current Making Art in Tudor Britain project being conducted by the National Portrait Gallery to see how things like chemical analysis of pigments and infrared reflectography are impacting the ways in which art historians attribute unsigned paintings to specific artists. It is a harsh reality that many of the "definite" sitter identifications and artist attributions of sixteenth-century portraits that have either come down over the centuries or were established in the eighteenth, nineteenth, or early-twentieth centuries have proven incorrect. "Holbeins" by the dozens have proven to be by other artists, for example, while most of Lucas De Heere's presumed works have been shown not, in fact, to be by him (see my own work on the supposed De Heere painting called Lady Jane Grey). Such identifications and attributions have a way of being modified over time. In fact, Matthews's article does some serious "reaching" and speculation even to support the notion that Sittow could have painted either Katherine or Mary, since Sittow was never resident in England (Matthews speculates, without any direct evidence to support his hypothesis, that Sittow visited London briefly in June 1514 in the company of a Habsburg diplomat, Gerard de Pleine). So, absent some evidence more solid than the subjective assessment of the artist's technique, there is room to challenge even the Sittow attribution, in my opinion.

Your reference to Sittow's Madonna and Child and Mary Magdalene are both very intriguing. Certainly the period in which the Vienna portrait was painted coincides with the emergence of the speculative art market ... that is, the creation by artists of imaginary pictures for "retail" sale on the open market, rather than of "custom-made" or "bespoke" works done on firm pre-paid commission. And both the Madonna and Child and Mary Magdalene were extremely popular subjects in those early "on spec" works. Again, see my own study of the supposed De Heere called Jane Grey, which is in fact a pattern portrait of Mary Magdalene by a very prolific "on spec" artist known today as The Master of the Female Half Lengths (http://www.somegreymatter.com/althorpportrait.htm ... "pattern" pictures are those created by an artist using a standard reference pattern, similar to outright copies but with variations intended to make each "copy" unique in some way).

I would caution against comparison of the appearance of individual body parts (mouth), especially when those parts are reproduced by two very different artists, to support an identification of a sitter. Yes, the mouth of the lady in the Vienna portrait is very different from that of the Flandes portrait. But Flandes and Sittow had different levels of skill, the former producing portraits of various women (both living and historical, i.e., Madonnas and Magadalenes) all with remarkably similar faces, while the latter rendered his subjects in a more individualized and lifelike manner. Additionally, the identity of the Flandes lady remains a matter of considerable debate. She is officially an Unknown Infanta, and could as easily be Katherine's sister Maria (later Queen of Portugal).

I have been trying to contact Dr Matthews in order to clarify some of these questions, especially how he might explain the anomalous halo, but have thus far been unsuccessful in locating him. I will post an addendum if I ever get in touch with him and get a reply.

shtove said...

Thanks to PhD for that reply.

I think there have always been doubts about the Vienna portrait, but I assumed that was limited to insufficient evidence to finger the artist/subject. Never occurred to me that an artist might be supplying a speculative market.

I blogged on the Catherine portraits a while back, concluded there was still a mystery. Not my area of expertise, but people are very keen on this stuff.


Art PhD said...

If you are discussing the Sittow portrait, there is no halo, she is wearing a very large Spanish hood, like a giant french hood, what you see is the edge, a halo-like effect: note the end parts of the headpiece resting at her shoulder area, with the gold trim extending out toward the body of the sitter's headgear.

Sittow does not have the genius of Holbein, but is on par with Master Johns, in england. Notice the tip of the sitter's nose...
I believe this is Katharine, and if you check out some of the portraits of Mary I, particularly a teenaged portrait by Master John (not john Master as wikipedia has it--go to the national portrait gallery site), again, there's that funny little nose tip, also visible in the Hornebolt mimiature. And the "Hapburg lip" shows up in the Sittow portrait, though disguised, and does in later portraits of Katharine as Queen (again, look at the miniature of her in the juliet cap)

Art PhD said...

Oh, and compare with the portraits of her sister juana of castille, and even queen Isabella (and Ferdinand). Contemporary ones, not those awful Victorian pretties (not that I wouldn't love to get my hot little hands on one of them, historical inaccuracies and all).

And none of Henry viii's family or other children have this rather bulbous or retrousee nose tip.

PhD Historian said...

Thanks, Art PhD, for that clarification. I have never seen a headpiece that large, and have previously seen the ring referred to as a halo (in a discussion of the portrait as a "guise portrait" of Katherine of Aragon as Mary Magdalene), so I kind of assumed ... my mistake. Apologies for that confusion. Is it Katherine? Mary? Someon else? The debate continues......

Art PhD said...

Although, looking at other images, pulled out books, you could be right PhD! It looks a halo. I'll be darned! This will take a while to sink in. Lots of re-looking. (could still be a hat...)

I read that when she first came to England, Kath wore a big round flat hat, like a cardinal's, considered most un-stylish.

I still believe it is Katharine. Perhaps a halo was added after her death, as you suggest, PhD; a martyr to her marriage and religion. There's at least one copy-version with no halo.

As for Katherine--(dull repeat) I go with the nose and the hapsburg lip, inherited by her daughter, and comparisons with contemporary portraits of her family members. Flandes I have to dismiss, he's medieval and his portrayals are kinda rote. Sittow borders on the renaissance realism. He almost captures the sitter.(though I think the Flandes Juana looks like her sister the Sittow Katherine)
Glad I stumbled upon all this really great discussion on a beloved topic, and now this marvelous puzzle!
My wish is that Holbein painted both Katharine and Anne B.

shtove said...

I got confused between the 2 PhDs - trying to reconcile the halo comments!

The headpiece in the Vienna portrait falls flat against the back of the head. Can be tricky to spot on dark internet repros. The halo is a perfect but incomplete circle.

Is a Spanish hood the same as a French hood? I know the latter was common in late 16thC fashion.

The Master John/Mary I observation doesn't hold for me. That is a decent portrait, but the same details come through in later, superior portraits of her as queen - point being that observation of the nose in the Catherine portraits may be true to life, giving an independent continuity.

Interesting comment by PhD on not relying on physical similarities because they may just be a result of an artist's established style.

I guess a good artist can't deny his subject matter, and Sittow is up with the best. But then his subject could be anyone. If it is Sittow in the first place ;-)

ps. I commented on comments on the Matthews article on the anne boleyn files, but couldn't find the original - the link said it was "forthcoming".

PhD Historian said...

Yes, Shtove, Spanish and French hoods are quite different. Spanish ones are usually described as "gabled", very angular in appearance, rather like a bird house wrapped around the wearer's head. You can see examples by "Googling" the term "gable hood". French hoods are less angular, especially in the early years (1530s, 1540s).

The hood in the Vienna portrait qualifies as quasi-"Spanish" because it sits so far forward around the face, and it has the very long "tails" that extend down the sides of the head and neck almost to the shoulders. French hoods sit further back on the head, much closer to (but usually still covering) the ears, and the side "tails" usually end at the level of the earlobes.

The Matthews article is closely copyright-protected, so The Anne Boleyn Files may not succeed in posting it. You have to get it through a subscription to a database for academic journal articles, such as JSTOR.

Fran said...

Her headpiece is called a 'beguine'.

Fran said...

Sorry, meant to add, if interested, there's a nice picture and some info at "Clothing the Low Countries" under 'beguin hood, a construction diary'. It's someone's blog, but the pictures of Anne of Brittany give a good look at this looser sort of headgear.

This may be off-topic, but clothing of the time is one of my interests!

PhD Historian said...

Thanks, Fran, for that fascinating bit of information. I always enjoy learning something new from these discussions.

I heard back from Dr Matthews regarding the halo (he confirms that it is indeed a halo). He says it is his "gut feeling" that the halo was added later in the painting's history, but no technical studies have yet been done to prove it. But because he cannot prove that it is a later addition, he chose not to mention it.

shtove said...

Thank you all.

Marilyn R said...

Thanks to everyone for a most interesting discussion.