Likenesses of Anne Boleyn are legion - two sketches by Holbein, a tiny enamel in a locket ring, a miniature by Horenbout - the list goes on. Of all the debated images, one has been the most famous, a picture of a lady wearing an initial 'B' around her neck. Yet even this popular and widely duplicated image of Anne has been challenged. In 2007, the organizers of the Lost Faces: Identity and Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture exhibition dismissed it as an Elizabethan fabrication. She was made to look 'something of a wicked witch', in line with hostile contemporary Catholic descriptions, they opined!1
|Anne Boleyn, by an Unknown Artist. The National Portrait Gallery, London|
While this was a purely subjective point of view, in 2009, historian Susan James offered what she felt was compelling evidence that this portrait type of Anne Boleyn was not actually of her.2 James insisted that such images were not of Henry VIII's second wife, but of his sister Mary Tudor, the former Queen of France and wife of Charles Brandon Duke of
. The 'B', James said, stood for
'Brandon', not 'Boleyn'. As proof, she compared a portrait of Mary to a
miniature of Anne by John Hoskins. Anne's likeness, according to James, was
evidently modelled after her sister-in-law's. Due to the lack of surviving
images of Anne, Elizabethan painters looked to Mary to re-invent her. Suffolk
|Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, by an Unknown Artist. Collection of the Earl of Yarborough|
|Anne Boleyn, by John Hoskins. Collection of the Duke of Buccleuch|
G.W. Bernard, despite being the bête noire of 'Team Anne' for advocating that its beloved Queen might have been truly guilty of the sexual crimes she was accused of, pointed out that the high ranking Mary, sister of the King of England and widow of the King of France, would not have identified herself with the 'by no means socially distinguished family name of Brandon'.3
James' claim has not gained wide acceptance. The National Portrait Gallery in
There was more controversy just last week when The Guardian posted this headline: Possible Anne Boleyn portrait found using facial recognition software.4 According to the article, researchers of the FACES (Faces, Art, and Computerized Evaluation Systems) research project at the
Anne Boleyn, by an Unknown Artist. Bradford Museums and Galleries (formerly at Nidd Hall)
Will there be a correction from the press? Highly unlikely. Putting out an attention grabbing headline and then having to retract it, doesn't make for good reporting.
2. S. James, The Feminine Dynamic in English art, 1485-1603: Women as Consumers, Patrons and Painters, Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2009, pgs. 126-127.
3. G.W. Bernard, Anne Boleyn - Fatal Attractions, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2010, pg. 199.
4. The Guardian (link accessed Feb. 16, 2015). The idea to match the 1534 medal to portraits of Anne Boleyn was suggested by Lucy Churchill to the FACES project (link accessed Feb. 17, 2015). Lucy Churchill, a stone carver by profession, had made a reconstruction of the medal by studying the original.
5. I've discussed the Nidd Hall picture in a previous article, where I offered the opinion that it may have been based on a portrait type of Henry VIII's third wife Jane Seymour. See: http://tudorfaces.blogspot.ca/2015/01/a-reassessment-of-queen-anne-boleyns.html
6. See: http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/update-nidd-hall-portrait-1534-anne-boleyn-medal-press-articles-not-correct/