Monday, February 01, 2010

Question from Marilyn R. - Portrait of Catherine of Aragon as Mary Magdalene

Wikipedia is showing a portrait it claims to be of a young Katherine of Aragon as Mary Magdalene, and Wikimedia Commons also shows this and another of the same sitter as the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child. They claim both are by Michael Sittow around 1501, but to my mind this is not the girl in the famous 1502 Sittow portrait of a rather pensive young Katherine wearing a magnificent gold chain and necklace, although it could be said there are some facial similarities.

I think the second one, the Virgin & Child, dates from a few years later and is now in a museum in Berlin. Can anyone shed any light on a Katherine connection with these two paintings?


Roland H. said...

The picture of Katherine as Mary was captioned as such in a biograpy of Elizabeth I by Mary M. Luke (if I'm not mistaken), though on what authority, I don't know.

I think the likeness is merely coincedental. That both are by Sittow has led people to think that it was Katherine intentionally depicted as Mary.

tudor fanatic said...

It could be Katherine in those pictures. There certainly is, to my mind anyway, an uncanny resemblance. One suggestion I have is that maybe Sittow intentionally painted Katherine as a famous religious figure in order to depict her as a virtuous young woman to the people of England, as she would have been preparing to marry Prince Arthur in 1501. Another suggestion is that maybe the sitter is one of Katherine's relations rather than Katherine herself. After all, Michael Sittow had been working at the court of Katherine's mother, Queen Isabella of Castile, since 1492, and in 1502 he left the Spanish court to paint for Isabella's son-in-law, Philip the Handsome. Perhaps then, this painting could even be of Katherine's elder sister, Juana? Although the sitter doesn't look much like Juana. I'll try and find out more about these paintings; I'm really curious now! If I find anything new about them, I'll tell you.

Diane said...

The portrait of Catherine as Mary Magdalene is in the Detroit Institute of Art. The title is: "Catherine of Aragon as the Magdalene."

Merlin said...

I hadn't seen the Mary Magdalene portrait before. The sitter does look identical to the known Sittow portrait of Katherine. What a wonderful portrait! I'd love to see it for real.

*E said...

Some more info at the Detroit Institute of Arts website, including a great high-resolution image of the painting that you can zoom in on:

I have a background in fine art and definitely agree with those of you who see a resemblance to the more familiar Sittow portrait of KoA!

Foose said...

Giles Tremlett's new book on Catherine of Aragon affirms that Sittow used her as a model for the Mary Magdalene portrait.

"Sittow, perhaps seeing the same strong-willed servility, seems also to have used her portrait as the model for a pair of remarkably similar paintings of Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary. In both of these her hair is luxuriantly visible as it cascades in rich, coppery waves over her shoulders. In the Mary Magdalene portrait she exudes erotic sensuality, hinting - if it is her - at a very different Catherine to the demure infanta she herself so carefully projected in public."

The "if it is her" does suggest there may be some doubt, but unfortunately Tremlett's book lacks any footnotes or endnotes, so I can't tell if he's citing a particular source for these statements.