A case of mistaken identity at the Palace

Thursday, 10 November 2011

A rare 16th-century bronze bust thought to have depicted the mother of Charles I’s consort, has instead been revealed to be Catherine de’Medici, the formidable mother in law of Mary, Queen of Scots.

The case of mistaken identity was only discovered when Royal Collection curators recognised the close likeness of the bust to a marble effigy of Queen Catherine in Paris.

The life-size bronze, previously thought to be of Marie de Medici, is now on display in the State Apartments at the Palace of Holyroodhouse – the royal residence most closely associated with its sitter.  It is the subject of a special talk by Jonathan Marsden, Director of the Royal Collection, next month.

Purchased by George IV in 1818, the bust was originally bought for display in the Crimson Drawing Room of his London residence, Carlton House. It shows Catherine wearing a crown decorated with fleur de lis, a wide ruff, and heavily jewelled sleeves and bodice.

The 87cm-high bust had been inscribed with the name of Marie de’Medici, (1575-1642), mother of Charles I’s consort Henrietta Maria, and paired with a bronze bust of Marie’s husband, Henri IV of France. 

However, Royal Collection curators recognised the likeness of the bust to Queen Catherine’s effigy, in the basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris.  Made by the French sculptor Germain Pilon, the effigy presents the Queen as she appeared at her coronation, alongside her husband King Henri II. 

The Royal Collection bust, now also thought to be by Pilon, includes minor changes that have translated the portrait from the horizontal to the vertical, including removing the pearl earrings which fall backwards on the effigy.

Catherine de’Medici (1519-89) was the orphaned daughter of a Florentine duke. She was the great-niece of a pope, Queen consort of France as the wife of King Henry II from 1547 to 1559 - and mother of three more kings.  She was also at one time the subject of marriage negotiations with King James V of Scotland, the father of Mary, Queen of Scots.  Her son, the Dauphin (later Francis II), married Mary in 1558.

The special talk at the Palace of Holyroodhouse will be followed by exclusive access to the Palace’s State Apartments.

Thursday 10 November, 18:00 – 19:30

Tickets £10/£7*, includes entry to The Northern Renaissance on the day. *Holders of a valid 1-Year Pass are eligible for the reduced price ticket.
Please contact the Learning Bookings Team on 0131 557 2500 or e-mail adultlearning@royalcollection.org.uk