Sunday, April 19, 2009

Question from Nasim - Authenticity of Anne Boleyn's portraits

In the recent BBC History magazine podcast, historian Brett Dolman discusses the current exhibition at Hampton Court on the women in Henry VIII’s life. At one point in the interview he mentioned that portraiture of Anne, including the famous image of her as a dark brunette, wearing French dress and the B pendant may have been based initially on a portrait of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. He mentions that a recent art historian has proposed this although unfortunately does not mention the name of the historian and the work in question. Has anyone else heard of this theory?

I understand that in regards to colouring the women were very dissimilar (I’m not an expert on Mary Tudor but what I have read relating to her implies that she was blond. Anne on the other hand is noted to have been a brunette in more than one source). However I remember an (inaccurate) portrait of Mary, alongside her second husband Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, which depicts her as a brunette and in French fashion. There is a certain resemblance between this image and the portraits of Anne although is there any actual evidence that somewhere along the line someone used this image of Mary to create a portrait of Anne and so the famous image of Anne has little authentic foundations to it?

Thank you!


Foose said...

I haven't been able to find anything on this topic. However, there appears to be two versions of the famous "marriage portrait" of Mary Tudor with Charles Brandon -- one in which her hair is noticeably reddish, and the second in which it looks much darker, brunette.

I don't know which painting was done first or by whom, or if both versions even date from the 16th century. If the Mary-as-brunette version was done some years after the first one, it might have some reference to your question. Is x-raying these paintings of various Tudor women a standard practice for art historians? I think there's a prevalent idea that Henry and his courtiers went around smashing their portraits of Anne Boleyn after her fall in a sort of damnatio memoriae, when really the images might have just been painted over or doctored to make them look like someone else. Paintings by good painters were expensive, after all.

Gareth Russell said...

I don't know where the idea came from that the portrait was based on the duchess of Suffolk's, who was, herself, not a brunette - Foose is quite right. There are more than one example of Anne in a very similiar pose, although art experts actually seem to think the one of her clutching the rose is the most physically accurate (Roland Hui and E.W. Ives.)

marie said...

If you have access to Eric Ives most recent edition of "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn", he actually discusses her portraits for a few pages in the "debut at the english court" section in the beginning of his work. (pages 39-45).

He doesn't address the Mary Tudor link, but he does mention that the only truly contemporary work that remains is the portrait medal of her. Everything else was painted after her death or not 100% confirmed to be her. He mentions the famous painting you're referring to, and says it wasn't made until 50 or 60 years after her death- which seems to be to make it pretty unlikely that it was based on Mary Tudor, who was also long dead by then.
I know that probably didn't help with youre actual question, but if you haven't read that section, it's pretty interesting-and of course, Ives is certainly trust-worthy when it comes to his research.

TheAnneBoleynFiles said...

It is difficult to know how authentic the portraits of Anne Boleyn are because her enemies were pretty thorough at destroying any portraits and writings of Anne after her execution.
I too have never heard of any portraits of Anne being confused with Mary Tudor. I agree with marie about the Eric Ives section and his book also includes quotes about Anne's appearance.

Foose said...

Susan James' "The Feminine Dynamic in English Art, 1485-1603," discusses a miniature identified by Eric Ives as Anne Boleyn in the first edition of "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn" and says that is actually a painting of Mary "Rose" Tudor -- the B on the necklace around her neck stands for Brandon, not Boleyn. I strongly agree with this identification -- the lady in the portrait, with her sloping chin, blue eyes and reddish hair, looks much more like the woman in the Brandon "marriage" portrait than any other portrait identified as Anne.

I think in view of this that perhaps there should be a general reevaluation of all the "B" necklace portraits, in case this hasn't already been done. I'm not sure that Anne wearing a "B" necklace is mentioned in the sources. She seems to have styled herself as the Lady Anne Rochford subsequent to her father's promotion in 1525, and perhaps would have more likely worn an "R" necklace.