Wednesday 3 April 2013

The 'Re-Discovered' Katherine of Aragon

Earlier this year, a portrait of an unknown lady at Lambeth Palace made the news when it was identified as Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon:

Katherine of Aragon (by an Unknown Artist), NPG L246

For some unclear reason it was previously thought to be of Katharine Parr, Henry’s last queen. Certainly, her costume – of the earlier part of the 1500’s – was a red flag. Nonetheless, the portrait was reproduced in history books from the 1970’s and 1980’s as Katharine, and even as late as 1999, when historian Susan James (Kateryn Parr: The Making of a Queen) saw the picture as proof of Katharine’s early interest in portraiture; years before becoming a patroness of the arts as Henry VIII's sixth wife.

As a likeness of Katherine of Aragon, it is rather poor. The face is bland and mask-like, inferior to better known representations of the Queen. That said, it might well be a copy. The portrait was replicated as shown in this alternate version (also formerly identified as Henry VIII's first wife).

Katherine of Aragon (by an Unknown Artist), Hever Castle.

UPDATE (July 6, 2017)

This portrait, of the same type, was sold at Christie's in 2016.

Katherine of Aragon (by an Unknown Artist)


  1. A comparison of the Lambeth version and the alternative version that you illustrate is very instructive. In terms of facial proportions, the Lambeth version is not at all like other known portraits of Katherine of Aragon. But in the second version the higher position of the mouth, slightly different jaw line, gives rise to a very much closer likeness to the Horenboute miniatures. One can imagine that, had it been well known, the identification of this version as Katherine Parr, would surely have been impossible. It looks too like a young Katherine of Aragon for doubt. Crucially, by slightly altering the proportions of the face, the Lambeth copyist has diluted the original sitter's idiosyncratic features, and compromised the likeness.

    1. That's an interesting observation about the alternate of the Lambeth picture and the miniature portraits (there are at least 4) of Queen Katherine attributed to Lucas Horenbout.

      So yes, it is probably an earlier - hence more accurate - version of this portrait type. Subsequent poor copies can really dilute a sitter's true likeness.


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