A Reassessment of Queen Anne Boleyn’s Portraiture

by Roland Hui


 
Copyright is held by the author, and no part of this paper may be reproduced without prior permission.
(January 2000)


 

ABSTRACT: The portraiture of Queen Anne Boleyn remains controversial. The reliability of the well known National Portrait Gallery type has been put into question by two alternate likenesses purported to be of the Queen. One is a sketch by Hans Holbein (the Royal collection), and the other, a miniature by Lucas Horenbolte (2 versions; the Buccleuch collection and the Royal Ontario Museum). 

This paper argues in favor of the National Portrait Gallery pattern, and suggests that Lucas Horenbolte may have originated it . What is also proposed here is that the Nidd Hall/Basiliwlogia image of Anne Boleyn is actually of her successor Jane Seymour.

 


 

The confusion surrounding the portraiture of Anne Boleyn was addressed by historian E.W. Ives in his biography of the Queen published in 1986.1 Ives reasserted the well-known National Portrait Gallery pattern (Fig. 1) as having primacy based on comparisons with a contemporary portrait medal, an Elizabethan locket ring at Chequers, and a miniature by John Hoskins the Elder painted for Charles I - all of which bear a similar likeness of Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately, the question of her portraiture has not been entirely settled with certainty as there are still two principal challengers in the forms of a Holbein drawing in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, and in a miniature by the Flemish artist Lucas Horenbolte.2  The argument to be made here is that neither of these sitters can be convincingly recognized as Anne, and that the NPG variant remains the only authentic drawn/painted image of Henry VIII's second wife known.

 


1. Anne Boleyn
Unknown Artist, 16th c.
National Portrait Gallery, London

 


2. Portrait inscribed 'Anna Bollein Queen'
Hans Holbein, c. 1530's
Royal Library, Windsor

 

In regards to the Holbein sketch (Fig. 2), John Rowlands and David Starkey have proposed that the sitter was indeed Anne Boleyn based on the appearance of the lady.3  She is seen in three-quarter profile dressed in a furred robe over a chemise laced at the throat, and wears a simple undercap. Rather than the seductive Anne Boleyn of legend, the sitter's looks are rather plain, and she bears an unflattering pronounced jawline. Rowlands and Starkey have argued that such 'undress' on the part of this ‘royal’ sitter was a novelty of sorts to relax the dictates of court etiquette. However, it seems unlikely that Anne with her much commented upon sense of style would have permitted herself to be depicted as such.


Since her early days at court Anne Boleyn had a reputation in fine dressing and in fashion setting. George Wyatt, the grandson of Anne’s admirer, the celebrated poet Thomas Wyatt, wrote that in her attire 'she excelled them all'.4  Even those hostile to Anne Boleyn, such as the Elizabethan Catholic Nicholas Sander, admitted to the Queen being always 'well dressed, and every day made some change in the fashion of her garments’.5  For one with such a concern for style and status, it appears highly inconceivable that Anne Boleyn would have wished to present herself in such a humble manner for her portrait taking.

If the sitter's déshabillé was not modesty on her part, it was credited to the supposed loose atmosphere of Anne Boleyn's court.6  Though Anne's Vice-Chamberlain himself commented that 'pastime in the Queen's chamber was never more',7   a remark such as this was in reference to the fortnight of celebrations immediately following Anne’s coronation. Mention of sexual misconduct in the Queen's apartments only conveniently appeared when Anne's fall was instigated in April of 1536 after her miscarriage a few months prior. As to the actual nature of Anne Boleyn's household, there was probably much truth in her silkwoman Jane Wilkinson's recollection that the Queen's ladies were constantly occupied in charitable works so that there was never 'any leisure to follow such pastimes as daily seen now-a-days in princes' courts'.8   Anne, a sincere Reformist in fact did much to emulate the conduct of her former mistress, the pious Katherine of Aragon, as to present herself as a worthy Christian ruler.9

Along with dress, the very appearance of the sitter is problematic in identifying her as Anne Boleyn. The thickened neck of the lady was supposedly the reported swelling Anne had tried to conceal with the high ruff of her mantle at her coronation according to a contemporary French account found in Brussels.10   To believe that Anne was goitrous (not to mention deformed by a large wart says the writer), one would also have to accept the ridiculous fiction that at her crowning she also wore a dress covered with a sinister motif of tongues pierced with nails ‘to show the treatment which those who spoke against her might expect’.11   As Anne Boleyn's elevation was tied to Reform and the repression of the Roman Church, she was aptly clothed as a sort of Jezebel by a hostile witness. With the reliability of these accounts being so suspect, they cannot literally be taken to confirm the Windsor drawing as being of her. What is even more problematic is that Anne was dark-haired; the Windsor sitter is blond.

At the time Rowlands and Starkey's findings were made, Roy Strong suggested that a miniature by Lucas Horenbolte in the Royal Ontario Museum (Fig. 3), with another version in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensbury, was a portrait of Anne Boleyn.12  According to Strong, the appearance of this sitter is ‘perfectly compatible’ with that of Anne in the NPG type. But in actuality it is difficult to reconcile the two likenesses – the NPG type of Anne with her long face and high cheekbones versus Horenbolte’s lady with her broader features and double chin.

Interesting enough, the two Horenbolte miniatures were formerly identified as being of Anne's rival Jane Seymour, and even as Katherine of Aragon. The labeling of Queen Jane for the Toronto version was probably due in part to the tradition that the portrait was originally held by the Seymours being passed down from Jane's own brother Edward, Duke of Somerset.13  But what is actually known is that the earliest member of the family to have positively owned the miniature was Charles Seymour (1662-1748).14


3. Unknown Lady
Lucas Horenbolte, c. 1525 to early 1530's
Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

On evidence of the age of Horenbolte’s sitter (given as 25) and her appearance, Ives has rejected the miniature as a portrait of Anne Boleyn.15  Because Horenbolte's miniatures were apparently restricted to the royal family, he has suggested that the lady in question might be one of Henry VIII's nieces - Margaret Douglas or Frances Brandon. Yet the headdress of the sitter in the Toronto miniature indicates otherwise. Both Margaret and Frances would have been 25 in 1540 and 1542 respectively, and the gabled English hood with frontlets extending slightly below the chin were a feature dating a few years back.16  In the Buccleuch version, this part of the headgear is even more elongated. The fashion of the early 1540’s would have dictated shortened frontlets aligned with the mouth, or even the adaptation of the more popular French hood altogether. The popularity of French dress at the English Court during this period was noted by the French ambassador who described Queen Katheryn Howard and her ladies as ‘vestue à la française’.17

If Horenbolte's sitter cannot be identified as a member of the King’s family, it would seem that she was a courtier who nevertheless had some sort of standing to permit herself to be painted in miniature, and not to mention twice by the artist. It appears that Horenbolte’s clients were not solely drawn from the ranks of the Tudors and their close relations as panels of Anthony Browne and William Carey, both members of the Privy Chamber, have been attributed to the Flemish painter.18


4. William Carey
Unknown Artist, 16th c.
Private Collection

William Carey (Fig. 4) as a possible Horenbolte sitter is significant in that he was married to Anne Boleyn's sister Mary. The connection with the Boleyns suggests that Horenbolte and his family may have come to England and been initially patronized by Anne and Mary's father Thomas Boleyn, the Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde, whom they may have already known when the latter served as ambassador to the Low Countries.19   Tree ring analysis of the Carey portrait (Private Collection), originally thought to have been painted from life, had actually revealed it to be an Elizabethan copy, probably commissioned by Carey’s son Henry, Lord Hunsdon.20   What is of great interest is that the panel may have been derived from a miniature portrait on the basis of costume evidence.21  As Carey died of the sweating sickness in 1528, a supposed miniature of him painted from life would have had to have been done by Horenbolte who was already engaged in painting miniatures at the King’s Court in around the middle 1520’s.

If Horenbolte did indeed paint William Carey, perhaps it can be suggested that the Toronto and Buccleuch miniatures could be of his wife Mary Boleyn.22   Although the birthdates of Sir Thomas’ surviving children are unknown, his two daughters and their brother George, Lord Rochford were somewhat close in age. In a letter to Thomas Cromwell in 1536, Boleyn recalled that his wife Elizabeth Howard ‘bought me every year a child'’.23  Mary Boleyn being 25 in about the middle 1520’s would fit the age of Horenbolte’s sitter. The ambiguous bird-like symbol appearing on the lady's brooch may in fact be the Ormonde falcon as depicted on Thomas Boleyn's tomb at Hever.24

Discarding the Windsor drawing and the Horenbolte miniature as possible portraits of Anne Boleyn, what remains is the familiar NPG image. It should be mentioned that another portrait type found in a painting formerly at Nidd Hall has also been accepted, though with some caution, as a likeness of Anne.25

The Nidd Hall (Fig. 5) picture identifies the sitter as the Queen through a brooch with the initials AB pinned at her breast. There is suspicion that this sitter was actually Anne Boleyn when comparison is made to a printed version of this picture (Fig. 6). The Nidd Hall variant was engraved by Renold Elstrack for the Basiliwlogia, a volume of royal portraits released in 1618. Instead of the AB brooch, a square jeweled tablet is worn by Anne, along with a different necklace consisting of stringed pearls with a tau cross pendant. Although the sitter is positively identified as The Most Excellent Princesse Anne Boleyn, her likeness was actually derived from that of Anne's supplanter Jane Seymour.

 

 


5. Anne Boleyn
Unknown Artist, 16th c.
Private Collection

Remigius van Leemput's copy of Holbein's dynastic mural at Whitehall shows Henry VIII's third consort (Fig. 7) in the same costume as Elstrack's 'Anne Boleyn'. Jane wears a similar gabled headdress of embroidered cloth of gold with a frontlet of pearls. The rest of the costume - the necklace and pendant, jeweled square, pearled collar, and ropes of pearls strung across the chest all repeat that of Elstrack's ‘Anne’. The facial features found in the engraving and in the Nidd Hall picture are actually more in line with the Whitehall Jane's than those of the NPG Anne.


6. Anne Boleyn
Renold Elstrack, from Henry Holland, Baziliwlogia.
(1618)


7. The Whitehall Mural (detail showing Jane Seymour)
Remigius van Leemput after Hans Holbein. 1667
Royal Collection


Why an image of Jane Seymour was confused as her predecessor is unclear. It would seem that renewed interest in portraits of the reigning Queen's mother in Elizabethan England presented difficulties due to the scarcity of available sources. The briefness of Anne's ascendancy, and her posthumous infamy meant that few likenesses survived, unlike those of Jane who managed to secure the Tudor succession with the birth of a male heir. Images of Anne Boleyn were probably never widely circulated to begin with.26  The new demand for her picture probably led to the relabeling of some of Jane’s portraits, whether purposely or not.

What is puzzling is that the Whitehall image from which Elstrack's engraving of Anne Boleyn was based was unquestionably known to be of Jane Seymour. The conclusion to be drawn is that the engraving was most likely derived from a Nidd Hall type panel which misidentified the sitter as Anne Boleyn. Elstrack may have simply copied it as such in ignorance of the picture’s actual source.

The Nidd Hall sitter's necklace may provide further evidence of a link with Jane Seymour. A virtually similar piece of jewelry consisting of a necklace and choker of four pearl clusters alternating with table-cut diamonds set in a quatrefoils can be found in portraits of Henry VIII's third wife by Holbein (Kunsthistorisches Museum), and by Horenbolte (Sudeley Castle). The Nidd Hall lady’s is of the same design but the diamonds have been substituted by rubies. The similarity suggests that the two necklaces were created as a matching set or parure for the royal consort. Jane’s successors, Katheryn Howard and Katharine Parr were apparently painted wearing the same jewelry as well. A Holbein miniature of a lady commonly identified as Henry’s fifth Queen (Royal Collection, with another version in the Buccleuch Collection),27  is depicted wearing the necklace set in rubies. Katharine Parr who ultimately took possession of the royal jewels, wears it set in diamonds, in a portrait formerly in the collection of the Earl of Jersey.28

Even though the NGP type of Anne Boleyn identifies the sitter as Henry’s second Queen without doubt, its reliability as a true likeness has been called into question because it exists only as posthumous Elizabethan copies.29  Costume evidence may provide some further evidence in its favour. Here the sitter is fashionably attired unlike the lady of the Windsor drawing. She wears a gown with a square collar of goldsmith’s work, and a headdress with pearled billiments - all black. Black was likely to have been one of Anne Boleyn's preferred colours as it would have complemented her famed dark looks. In the royal expenses of 1532, the Queen's fondness for the colour is apparent in the description of a luxurious 'night gown' she had made consisting of black satin, vellute, buckram, and taffeta.30

Where we may be on surer ground in confirming this likeness of Queen Anne is by analyzing a specific feature of the picture itself, or rather of a very close variant of it. This with its correlation to two works by Horenbolte establishes the NPG type as a portrait derived from Anne’s own lifetime.

What authenticates the NPG painting as a true likeness of Anne Boleyn, is a copy of this type at Hever Castle (Fig.8). The obvious difference is the addition of the sitter's hands - one stretched across the breast, the other clutching a red rose. The importance of the hands is in the manner in which they are posed. Their positioning is reminiscent of that used by Horenbolte in a panel portrait attributed to him. A painting of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (Fig. 9) by the so-called 'Shadow Master' (an unknown painter believed to be the Flemish Master himself)31  has her repeating Anne’s gesture though reversed. Such a depiction of the hands appears again in Horenbolte’s miniature of Katherine of Aragon with her monkey (Fig. 10). An obvious comparison can be made between Anne’s fingers handling the rose and those of Katherine offering a scrap of food to her pet. That this custom of placing the hands was only in vogue in Tudor portraiture from the 1520’s to 1530’s 32  implies that the NPG/Hever type of Anne was painted from life with the Queen formally posed in the then current fashion.

These clues point to Horenbolte as the originator of the NPG type image of Anne Boleyn.33   As the Queen surely needed an official portrait of herself to affirm her royal status (even more so due to her general unpopularity as Henry VIII's new wife), Anne would have turned to Horenbolte who by 1531 was engaged in royal service. Anne might already have been familiar with him as he may have received earlier patronage from her family. Being the 'King's Painter' Horenbolte would have been the most obvious candidate to paint the Queen of England. As mentioned, portraits of Katherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour by the artist exist,34  so it is more than likely that Anne Boleyn sat to the Flemish Master as well. It is tempting to think that the ‘ancient oil-colour piece’ from which John Hoskins copied his miniature35  may have been such a panel painting, but unfortunately no such picture from Anne’s own lifetime is known. It is due in thanks to Elizabeth I's ascension to the throne that the demand for her mother's likeness as a dynastic portrait ensured the copies which do survive today.

 


10. Katherine of Aragon
Lucas Horenbolte, c. 1525-31
The Duke of Buccleuch

 


8. Anne Boleyn
Unknown Artist, 16th c.
Hever Castle, Edenbridge, Kent

 


9. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
Unknown Artist, 16th c.
National Portrait Gallery, London

 


 

NOTES

1 ERIC IVES: Anne Boleyn, Oxford [1986], pp.52-56. See also: ERIC IVES: ‘The Queen and the painters: Anne Boleyn, Holbein and Tudor royal portraits’, Apollo Magazine [July 1994], pp.36-45. Return

2 Despite its long and popular claim as a portrait of Anne Boleyn, the Bradford Holbein drawing of a lady (British Museum) is now generally dismissed as a picture of her. See: JOHN ROWLANDS: ‘A portrait drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger’, British Museum Yearbook, 2 [1977], pp.231- 237.  Return

3 JOHN ROWLANDS and DAVID STARKEY: ‘An old tradition reasserted: Holbein’s portrait of Queen Anne Boleyn’, Burlington Magazine, CXXV [1983], pp.88-92. See also: JOHN ROWLANDS: The Age of Dürer and Holbein (German Drawings 1400 – 1550), London [1988], p.236.  Return

4 GEORGE WYATT: The Papers of George Wyatt, ed. D.M. LOADES, Camden Society, 4th series, 5 [1968], p.141.  Return

5 NICOLAS SANDER: The Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism, ed. D. LEWIS, London [1877], p.25.  Return

6 JOHN ROWLANDS and DAVID STARKEY, loc. cit. at note 3 above, p.91.  Return

7 Public Records Office, London: PRO SPI/76 f. 195 (Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, ed. J.S. BREWER , J. GAIRDNER, and R.H. BRODIE, 21 vols. and appendix, London [1862-1932], VI, 613; hereafter referred to as Letters and Papers)Return

8 JOHN FOXE: Acts and Monuments, ed. G.TOWNSEND, 8 vols., New York [1965], V, pp.60-61.  Return

9 RETHA M. WARNICKE: The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, Cambridge [1989], pp.149-153.  Return

10 Public Records Office, London: PRO 31/8 f. 51 (Letters and Papers, VI 585).  Return

11 Document cited at note 10 above, PRO 31/8 f. 51 (Letters and Papers, VI 585). In Christian iconography, severed tongues were regarded as symbols of the persecution of martyrs who maintained their faith. See: HANS BIEDERMANN: Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind them, translated by JAMES HULBERT, New York [1994; reprint], p.346.  Return

12 ROY STRONG: The English Renaissance Miniature, London [1983], pp.36-37 and p.189. See also:  ROY STRONG: Artists of the Tudor Court: The Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620, London [1983], p.18 and pp.39-40.  Return

13 H.HICKL-SZABO: Miniature Portraits in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto [1981], pp.3-4.  Return

14 H.HICKL-SZABO, op. cit. at note 13 above, p.4.   Return

15 ERIC IVES, Anne Boleyn, op. cit. at note 1 above, p.56. Also: loc. cit. at note 1 above, ‘The Queen and the painters’, pp.36-38.  Return

16 The changing style in English hoods is documented in portraits of Henry VIII’s first three wives: Horenbolte’s miniature of Katherine of Aragon with her monkey (The Duke of Buccleuch; reproduced here as Fig. 10) dated to the late middle 1520’s; Anne Boleyn’s portrait medal of 1534 (British Museum); and the various Holbein types of Jane Seymour from 1536/37.  Return

17 Correspondence Politique de M. De Castillon et de M. Marillac, ed. JEAN KAULEK, Paris [1885], p.218.  Return

18 HUGH PAGET: ‘Gerard and Lucas Hornebolt in England’, Burlington Magazine, 101 [1959], pp.396-402.  Return

19 HUGH PAGET, loc. cit. at note 18 above, p.400.   Return

20 JOHN FLETCHER: ‘A portrait of William Carey and Lord Hunsdon’s Long Gallery’, Burlington Magazine, 123 [1981], p.304.   Return

21 JOHN FLETCHER, loc. cit. at note 20 above, p.304. Another copy of William Carey’s portrait (Private Collection) is believed to be the ad vivum original painted by an unknown Flemish artist. See: Henry VIII: A European Court in England, ed. D. STARKEY, New York [1991], p.57. This dating is questionable as removal of overpaint in Carey’s costume has revealed the same Elizabethan elements shown in Lord Hunsdon’s version.  Return

22 The portrait of Mary Boleyn at Hever Castle, which any comparison ought to be made, is not contemporary on the basis of style, nor is it known to be derived from an earlier source.  Return

23 Letters and Papers, op. cit. in note 7 above, XI, 17. Anne Boleyn’s birthdate remains controversial. For arguments favouring 1501, see: HUGH PAGET: ‘The Youth of Anne Boleyn’, Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 54 [1981], pp.162– 70. The opinion for 1507 is covered in: RETHA M. WARNICKE: ‘Anne Boleyn’s Childhood and Adolescence’, The Historical Journal, 28, 4 [1985], pp.939–952.  Return

24 ERIC IVES, ‘The Queen and the painters’, loc. cit. at note 1 above, p.36. This would then date the miniature to after December 1529 following Thomas Boleyn’s investiture as Earl of Ormonde. The so-called bird-like image is definitely not the familiar device of Anne Boleyn’s crowned white falcon seen in profile. The falcon badge was not used by Anne till the time she became Queen in 1533. The image on the brooch may even be of an angel with outstretched wings, or of a female figure with wide hanging sleeves. Return

25 ERIC IVES, Anne Boleyn, op. cit. at note 1 above, p.56. Also: ‘The Queen and the painters’, loc. cit. at note 1 above, p.44. Ives remarks that the Nidd Hall is ‘not incompatible’ with the NPG type.  Return

26 ERIC IVES, ‘The Queen and the painters’, loc. cit. at note 1 above, p.44.  Return

27 SUSAN E. JAMES: ‘Lady Margaret Douglas and Sir Thomas Seymour by Holbein’, Apollo Magazine [May 1998], pp. 15–20, has proposed that the so-called miniature of Katheryn Howard is actually that of Henry VIII’s niece, Margaret Douglas. Holbein’s sitter wears a pendant like Queen Jane’s but with the diamond replaced by an emerald.  Return

28 The Jersey painting now known only through photographs is reproduced in: ROY STRONG: Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, London, [1969], ii, under ‘Lady Jane Dudley 1537-54’ (Fig. 148). This portrait type (along with associated ones) has been was re-identified as actually being of Henry VIII’s last Queen. See: SUSAN.E. JAMES: ‘Lady Jane Grey or Queen Kateryn Parr?’, Burlington, CXXXVIII [January 1996],  pp.20-24. The Jersey picture of Katharine Parr has the Queen wearing a pendant – a pear shaped tablet with three prominent stones and a pearl drop that may be the same as the Nidd Hall sitter’s of three rubies. The Jersey portrait shows the jewel consisting of two diamonds and a ruby. Despite the discrepancy, this may have been the same pendant but with the stones reset, or their colour altered by subsequent overpainting. This jewel may also be the one appearing in a Jacobean engraving of ‘Jane Grey’ (re-identified by Susan E. James as Katharine Parr) from Henry Holland’s Herwologia Anglica. Here, the previously mentioned necklace of alternating pearl clusters and quatrefoils appears as well.  Return

29 Henry VIII: A European Court in England, ed. D. STARKEY, New York [1991], p.103.  Return

30 Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry VIII, ed. N.H. NICOLAS, London [1827], pp.222-223. References to several other items made in black fabrics for the Queen can be found in W. LOKE: An Account of Materials Furnished for the Use of Queen Anne Boleyn and the Princess Elizabeth, ed. J.B. HEATH, London [1862].  Return

31 ROY STRONG, The English Renaissance Miniature, op. cit. at note 12 above, pp.42–44.  Return

32 ROY STRONG, The English Renaissance Miniature, op. cit. at note 12 above, p.42.  Return

33 A miniature based on the NPG type (The Earl of Romney; reproduced in: A.F. POLLARD: Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation 1489-1556, New York [1906], facing p.32) bears an inscription that it was copied from a picture by Lucas Cornelii (1493/5-1552). Cornelli (also Corneley, Cornelisz, or de Kock ) was an obscure Flemish painter of oils and watercolours who supposedly worked at the English Court. The attribution to him as the original artist of the Boleyn picture may have been due to a number of Henrican portraits at Hampton Court being labeled as his. See: CAREL VAN MANDER: Dutch and Flemish Painters, Translation from Schilderboeck, New York [1936], p. 70 and p. 454, note 1. Cornelli has also been confused with the ‘Lucas’ (that is Horenbolte) who taught Holbein to paint miniatures. Refer to: J.J. FOSTER: Dictionary of Painters of Miniatures (1525-1850), London [1926], p.60.   Return

34 It appears that that the NPG half length of   Katherine of Aragon (with another version at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) is by Horenbolte as well. The Queen's right hand is identical to that of Anne Boleyn's clutching the rose in the Hever variant, while her left mirrors that of Margaret Pole's right. Also, a comparison of  Katherine's hands in the NPG/Boston portrait to that of the Buccleuch miniature of her is obvious.   Return

35 H.A. KENNEDY: Early English Portrait Miniatures in the Collection of the Duke of Buccleuch, ed. CHARLES HOLME, London [1917], p.14.  Return

 


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