Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Elizabeth of Valois, later Queen of Spain (1545-1568)
François Clouet succeeded his father, Jean Clouet, as court painter to Francis I, King of France, in 1540 and retained his position during the reigns of Henry II, Francis II and Charles IX of France. Like his contemporary, Hans Holbein the Younger, who was working in the service of Henry VIII, Clouet produced chalk portrait drawings and miniatures as well as full-scale oil portraits of subjects from the French court. The relationship between the present work and a red and black chalk drawing by Clouet of the same sitter in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, proved instrumental in re-establishing the identity of the young child in this miniature in the early twentieth century. The drawing at Chantilly depicts Elizabeth of Valois (1545-68), daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine de Médicis. It may be one of the portraits of her children discussed by Catherine de Médicis in a letter dated August 1549 to their tutor, M.d’Humières.
The early history of the miniature is unknown, but Reynolds surmises that it may have been sent to the English court as part of the marriage negotiations conducted between Elizabeth of Valois and Edward VI between 1549 and 1553. The custom of exchanging portraits in the pursuit of marriage negotiations can be traced back as far as the fifteenth century, and portrait miniatures had been used for this purpose on at least one occasion by Henry VIII. In this instance the marriage negotiations proved fruitless on account of Edward VI’s premature death in 1553, and the miniature, if it first appeared at the English court in the mid-sixteenth century, must then have left the collection before being presented to Charles I by Theophilus Howard, second Earl of Suffolk, as an unidentified young lady. The miniature still bears on the reverse a label inscribed in ink in the handwriting of Abraham van der Doort, Charles I’s Surveyor of Pictures, giving its location, the Cabinet Room in Whitehall Palace, in 1638: ‘61 in ye Cubborde within ye cabon … roome at white hall 1638’.
Elizabeth of Valois, born at Fontainebleau in 1545, married Philip II of Spain in 1559, becoming his third wife. She died in childbirth in 1568. Her life inspired Schiller’s tragedy Don Carlos (1783-7) and Verdi’s opera of the same name (1867 and 1884).
Catalogue entry adapted from The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein, London 2011