Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015
Portrait of a Lady, perhaps Katherine Howard (1520-1542)
This miniature is one of two extant versions of this subject in miniature by Holbein. The other version, in the Buccleuch Collection, can be traced back to Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, in whose collection it was engraved by Wenceslaus Hollar as an unnamed subject. The earliest likely reference to the present miniature in the Royal Collection is in the Inventory of goods recovered at the Restoration by Col. W. Hawley, 1660–61, where it may be identifiable as: ‘A small peice Inclineing of a woman after ye Dresse of Henry ye Eights wife by Peter Oliver’. In neither instance was the name of Katherine Howard attached to the miniature. However, by c.1735 – 40, the Buccleuch version, by then in the collection of Jonathan Richardson, had been engraved by Jacobus Houbraken for Thomas Birch’s Heads of Illustrious Persons of Great Britain (1743) as Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth queen. When the present miniature was first recorded beyond doubt in the Royal Collection c.1837, it, too, bore this identification.
No conclusive evidence has yet been put forward to substantiate the persistent, but late, identification of this subject as Katherine Howard, particularly since there is no authentic contemporary likeness of the queen in existence. The most compelling argument in favour of her regal status is that the large ruby, emerald and pearl jewel which the sitter wears is the same as that shown in Holbein’s panel portrait of Henry VIII’s third queen, Jane Seymour (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) and that this, and the jeweled band around the sitter’s neckline, may have been given to Katherine Howard by Henry VIII on their marriage in 1540. However, Jane Seymour made gifts of her jewellery to her ladies-in-waiting, one of whom, Mary, Lady Monteagle (c.1510– 40/4), has also been suggested as a possible subject for the present miniature. Lady Monteagle’s features, as shown in Holbein’s drawing in the Royal Library, Windsor Castle, (RL 12223) bear some resemblance to the present sitter.
Katherine Howard, daughter of Lord Edmund Howard, and niece of Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, secured a place at court as maid-of-honour to Anne of Cleves. By September 1539 Katherine had attracted the king's attention and they were married on 28 July 1540 at Oatlands Palace after the annulment of Henry VIII's marriage to Anne of Cleves. She accompanied the king on royal progresses to the Midlands in 1540 and to Yorkshire in 1541. On their return the queen was accused of adultery. She was beheaded at the Tower of London on 12 February 1542. If the miniature does indeed represent her, it must date from the very short period of her ascendancy and reign as queen c.1540.
Text adapted from Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein, 2011