Saturday, October 11, 2008

Question from Sarah - Few portraits for some, more for others

I never understood why Katherine Howard has only one small portrait which hasn't been even confirmed to be her, whereas Jane Seymour who was queen for a similar ammount of time has a few portraits.


Blogger Elizabeth M. said...

Most likely because Jane fulfilled her role as the mother of an heir to the throne.

October 11, 2008 9:52 AM  
Anonymous PhD Historian said...

In truth, we do not know for sure why one seems to have more portraits than others, and the possible reasons are numerous.

One prinicple reason may be very much related to what Elizabeth M points out: Jane Seymour was the sole wife of Henry VIII who succeeded in producing a surviving male child. That fact may explain why more portraits of her survived, but not why it appears that more were done. Jane Seymour died shortly after giving birth, so it is all but impossible for portraits of her to have been painted after it was confirmed that she had "fulfilled her role as mother of an heir to the throne." Rather, it seems more likely to me that Henry, Edward, the Seymour family and others held on to portraits of Jane after her death, ensuring that more of them survived. All of those portraits were done before it was known that she was mother to the long-sought male heir.

Katherine Howard, on the other hand, was executed as a traitor, and without having produced a child of any kind. Harsh as it may seem, few people had any real reason to cherish her memory, and thus less reason to hang on to any portraits that may have been produced. Even her own family, the Howards, suffered because of Katherine's acts, so they too had reason to essentially forget her. I cannot imagine that many of them were very keen to keep portraits of her around to remind them of how close the entire family had come to total downfall.

But it is also possible that fewer portraits of Katherine were actually produced. Henry VIII seems to have gone through a phase of having many portraits done in the late 1530s and very early 1540s, a phase that seems to have ended around the time of Katherine Howard's queenship. One reason for the phase was the presence of perhaps the greatest portrait artist of the early modern period, Hans Holbein, at court. Holbein was very prolific, and seems to have painted everybody who was anybody at court. Dozens of drawings done in preparation for portraits still exist, though many of the finished portraits do not. Henry employed Holbein to apply his unique talents to painting the king, his wife Jane, his son Edward, and even his deceased father and mother (the Whitehall Mural). Holbein also painted a picture of Henry's 4th wife, Anne of Cleves, before the marriage. But by 1540, Holbein had begun shuttling back and forth between London and Basel, Switzerland. No longer a full-time resident of London, he was less accessible to Henry, and Henry's personal interest in portraiture seems to have faded as a result.

Some think a portrait miniature by Holbein of an unknown woman is of Katherine Howard, but it is very uncertain. Even if it is, it may be possible that Holbein simply was not in London enough during Katherine's period of prominence (1540-41) to produce a full-sized portrait of her before her downfall.

Holbein died suddenly in London in October 1543, bringing an effective end to Henry's phase of portrait production within the English court. Henry's last queen, Katherine Parr, had several portraits produced, but she commissioned them herself from other artists, rather than Henry commissioning them. Henry seems to have lost interest in portraits by that time.

October 11, 2008 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Olivia said...

well i'd thought about this a lot, myself, and i'd come up with this conclusion...
when anne boleyn was executed, all traces of her (save elizabeth, her daughter) were hidden, and that's why we don't have many pictures of her as well. and i thought, since anne and katherine met similar fates, maybe all traces of katherine were hidden too... (just an assumption)

October 11, 2008 11:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There were probably a lot of portraits of Katherine Howard, but Henry VIII probably had them destroyed after he had her beheaded.

October 12, 2008 7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that Henry destroyed the portraits of Katherine Howard after her execution, according to the book I was reading it said she hurt his dignity and pride. However, is it just possible that he thought her insignificant, just his young bride?

October 12, 2008 10:34 PM  
Anonymous Kelly said...

olivia and anonymous are right.

October 13, 2008 10:17 AM  
Anonymous olivia said...

hmm.. that's a good point, "anonymous" (the one that said about katherine maybe being insignificant) but i've read that henry regarded her as his "rose without a thorn" (refering to his first catherine, catalina of aragon)and i'd read and seen that he really loved her (for the most part, as he was an old man and she a young girl of no more than 19. 18 i think) but extremely good point.

October 14, 2008 2:40 PM  

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