The Lady Vanishes as Portrait of Jane Grey is Proved Wrong

Article written by Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent for "The Weekly Telegraph"


The portrait, once thought to be Jane. NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY

The only known contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England for nine days, is not her at all, experts at the National Gallery have concluded. The verdict - based on detailed study of jewels in the full length painting - means there is now no record of what England's shortest reigning monarch looked like.

With no public announcement or fanfare, possibly to save itself and its former director, Sir Roy Strong, any embarressment, the gallery has reidentified the portrait, thought to be by a Tudor artist known only as Master John, as being of Catherine Parr, sixth and last wife of Henry VIII. painted some time during the 1540s. The picture has been displayed as Lady Jane Grey since the mid-1960s, when it was bought from a house in Northamptonshire long associated with the Parr family. Until the acquisition it was presumed to be of Catherine Parr.

Sir Roy, director of the gallery from 1967 to 1973, concluded that it was a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey painted in 1547. This was held to be a major discovery and art historians have relied on the description ever since.

Catherine Macleod, curator of the gallery's 16th and 17th century collections, said that she was now "as convinced as you can ever be in these matters" that the picture was of Catherine Parr...

...Dr Macleod said she had changed the label in the gallery in January. Despite the significance of the renaming, no announcement was made because the gallery was, "very busy at the time."

Dr Susan James, the Canadian scholar whose research led gallery staff to change their minds, said, "I think they are trying not to offend Sir Roy Strong. No one wants to embarress him."

Sir Roy, who later became deirector of the Victoria and Albert museum, accepted the verdict with grace, " I am absolutely the last person to be insulted by advances in scholarship. We knew it was a portrait of a Tudor princess and making a comparison with a later engraving of Jane Grey we were convinced that this must be her. But research moves on and more resources become availbale."

Dr James, a Cambridge postgraduate in Tudor history, discovered three forgotten jewel inventories at the British Library and the Society of Antiquaries during research for a biography of Catherine Parr which she completed last year. The key item of jewellery in the portrait is a crown-headed flower brooch with two diamonds, one ruby, one emerald and three hanging pearls which is pinnned to the sitters bosom. The inventories all prove, says Dr James, that the item belonged first to Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's fifth wife, and then passed to Catherine Parr, whom he married in 1543. Dr James also says Sir Roy's dating of the portrait 1547 is wrong, as Lady Jane Grey, who had little significant jewellery of her own would have been only 10. She dates it to 1543 or 1544, when Parr would have been 32 or 33.

From The Weekly Telegraph, Issue no.256, 19 June - 25 June 1996


Note at the National Portrait Gallery...

Lady Jane Grey or Catherine Parr

For many years thought to represent Lady Jane Grey, the painting has recently been re-identified as Catherine Parr, with whose name it was originally associated. The full-length format was very rare in portraits of this date, and was usually used only for very important sitters. Lady Jane Grey, although of royal blood, was a relatively obscure child of eight when this was painted; it was to be another eight years before her disasterous and short-lived reign. The distinctive crown shaped jewel which the sitter wears can be traced to an inventory of jewels belonging to Catherine Parr and the cameo beads appear to have belonged to Catherine Howard, from whom they would have passed to her successor as queen.

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