Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Catherine of Aragon, c.1560 

 English School 

Portrait of Catherine of Aragon, c.1560,  English School
Oil on Panel
16th Century
22 1/2 x 16 3/4 (57.3 x 42.5cms)
English Private Collection
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This bright and boldly painted image derives from the best known easel portrait of Katherine, that attributed to Jan Corvus, or Jan Rav (d. c.1544) now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This example, most probably painted in the 1560s (according to a dendrochronoligical analysis of the oak panel) would have formed part of a series of ‘corridor portraits’ in an important English house. In this case, given the inscription identifying Katherine as the wife of Henry VIII (as opposed to the mother of Queen Mary I), it was almost certainly commissioned as part of a set of Henry’s six wives.

Katherine of Aragon’s appearance throughout her life is well recorded. This example shows Henry VIII’s first Queen as the “somewhat stout” figure observed at court by the Venetian ambassador Mario Savorgano. It accords well with Lucas Horenbout’s miniature of the later 1520s [National Portrait Gallery], painted when the Queen was becoming increasingly marginalized at court as Henry’s attempts to divorce her got underway. It is probable therefore that the original likeness was taken in the mid 1520s.

There seems to have been an increase in the demand for portraits of Katherine as Henry’s break with Rome progressed. Some of these made very clear references to Katherine being an obviously Catholic figure, against Henry’s increasingly reformist (or even heretical) tendencies. However, while the prominent cross seen here on Katherine’s dress is an allusion to her faith, it is notable that the portrait does not make more of her historical and religious significance; the cross is fairly simply rendered as a form of jewellery, and thus any potential danger to the owner, during the Protestant reign of Elizabeth I, would be avoided.
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