What goes in to researching a portrait

If you’ve ever wondered what goes in to researching portrait identification, head on over to Stephan Edwards’ (a.k.a PhD Historian) website to see some fascinating work that he recently did.

Here’s the abstract:

In mid February 2009, I was contacted by a private collector in regard to a painting he had recently purchased from an estate. The painting, seen above, bears the label Princess Elizabeth (afterwards Queen) , “The Harington Portrait” and has been attributed in the past to the artist Antonio Mor (d. ca. 1578). The collector questioned the identification and requested my opinion on it. I was able to determine at first glance that it was not, in fact, an authentic portrait of Elizabeth Tudor, so the owner asked for my assistance in determining who the sitter may have actually been. Thus began a two-month period of intensive research, and the results of that investigation are now presented here for the first time.


  1. Fascinating!

  2. WOW! This is amazing stuff. No wonder you become irked with Starkey’s identifications. Compared to your thorough scholarship, I find his approach slapdash indeed.

    I do wonder though that this portrait was ever attributed to Antonio Moro (Anthonis Mor) — I find his portraits so realistic that they seem almost 3-dimensional (the Duke of Alva looks like he’s going to rip out his sword, step out of the frame, and gut you, you damned heretic). This portrait is much flatter. I’m also surprised at the identification with Elizabeth — the nose is very distinctive.

    A great piece of historical detective work. I hope it gets broader notice and coverage.

  3. Foose, there have been a series of fads over the centruies for attributing paintings to particular artists. It is really rather odd, in retrospect. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Holbein was the artist in favor and literally dozens of paintings were incorrectly assigned to him. Lucas de Heere was also a popular choice. Mor seems to have enjoyed a period of popularity in the 19th century. In the 20th century, Lavina Teerlinc has been popular for miniatures, while Eworth “became” the artist of many works early in the 20th century. In fact, I know of three life-sized paintings at Arundel Castle identified as Eworths that are definitely not his work. Identifying the artist of the Harington portrait as Mor was probably nothing more than some owner following the 19th century trend.

    As for the identity of the sitter, that identification was made solely by the family who owned the painting for 350 years, and it was based entirely in family tradition without any supporting evidence. It is a perfect example of why appraisers (think “Antiques Roadshow”) dismiss family traditions so quickly.

    The current owner of the painting is a very private person and not keen on publicity, so there is not likely to be much notice. But I do plan to submit an article to the art history periodical “Burlington Magazine.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *