The South Carolina Portrait
 
 
 
 
     
 
Called Lady Jane Grey
Said to be “Manner of Hans Holbein the Younger”
Oil on canvas
35½ x 41½ in.
Whereabouts unknown
 
     
 
 
 
     I knew while writing A Queen of a New Invention that, despite my best efforts over the past ten years to be exceedingly thorough in attempting to locate any and all early portraits said to depict Lady Jane Grey, additional paintings would likely become known to me only after the book had been published. And consistent with that expectation, this painting first surfaced in March 2015. It had been de-accessioned in 2014 from an unnamed South Carolina museum and offered for sale on 13 December 2014 through Charlton Hall Auctioneers of West Columbia, South Carolina. It came to my attention through one of my routine Google News searches, having originally appeared in a notice in the Maine Antique Digest.[1]

     The painting itself is neither signed nor marked, but lettering has been added to the frame in order to identify the supposed sitter. Rendered in very ornate Gothic script, the lettering at the top reads “Beheaded 12th Feb[ruar]y 1554.” That at the bottom gives the person’s name as “Lady Jane Grey.” Because the year is given as 1554, the inscription must post-date the implementation in 1582 in most continental European countries of the Gregorian calendar system.[2] The inscription may also post-date 1752, the year in which Great Britain finally switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

     The costume worn by the sitter indicates that the painting dates to the middle of the seventeenth century. The wide brim and high crown of the hat are typical of that era. The style of the hat also suggests a sitter from the Low Countries, especially when worn by a woman. Likewise the ruff following the natural slope of the shoulders rather than being propped up to become more nearly horizontal is typical of the second and third quarters of the seventeenth century and again suggests a sitter from the Low Countries. The round ornament suspended from a ribbon at the lady’s waist is perhaps a pocket watch. Lockets were more commonly worn higher on the body, while this object lies below the hip. And unlike a spherical pomander, the item seen here, though round and thick, has a flat upper surface. Pocket watches of the relatively small size seen here were not available until the middle of the seventeenth century.
 
     
 
 
 
 
     
     
 
    The most likely explanation for why a portrait depicting a Netherlandish woman and dating to the middle of the seventeenth century might be erroneously identified as a depiction of Jane Grey lies in the presence of the book beneath the lady’s left hand and her seemingly severe costume. Many of the falsely-identified portraits discussed in A Queen of a New Invention likewise include the presence of a book, which was correlated among early portrait-owners and viewers with the prayerbook Lady Jane reportedly carried with her to the scaffold. The books in those portraits were also interpreted as symbols of Jane’s renowned intellect. Many other women also owned books, however, and were educated. Similary, the unembellished black dress is consistent with the mythology that Jane dressed in a proto-Puritan manner, yet the outfit depicted was a common one in the Netherlands and other areas, including England in the middle of the seventeenth (but not the sixteenth) century.

     Though said to depict Lady Jane Grey, this painting is actually a portrait of some unidentified Netherlandish woman of the second quarter of the seventeenth century. Like so many others, it somehow lost its identity and was relabeled, probably in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, to suit some past owner’s personal wishes.
 
     
     
  A Note on Artist Attribution:  
     
 
    The Charlton Hall Auctioneers sale catalogue stated that this painting was created “in the manner of Hans Holbein the Younger.” In all probability, the catalogue probably merely repeated whatever information had been made available by the unnamed museum that de-accessioned the painting. The basis for the attribution is otherwise entirely mysterious. The painting bears no real similarities to genuine works by Holbein, whether in terms of depictional realism, artisitic technique, or compositional style. The attribution appears to have been ‘wishful thinking’ at best, perhaps in a misguided attempt to bolster the erroneous identification through naming an artist sometimes said to have painted a portrait of Jane.[3] The artist was likely Netherlandish, but the technical ability exhibited here indicates an artist of somewhat limited skill.
 
     
     
  Addendum, 24 November 2015:  
 
    The London art dealer Christopher Foley offers this observation via email: “The ‘Carolina’ portrait is certainly English and of the 1620’s. Roy Strong put together a group of similar portraits which he attributed to ‘The Master of the Large Hands,’ an anonymous primitive, who seems to have been working in the West Country, perhaps based in Exeter, at that date. He is truly a bad painter!” My thanks to Mr Foley!
 
     
     
     
 
NOTES :
     
 
[1]
   
         
 
[2]
 
Under the older Julian calendar in use throughout Europe before 1582, the New Year began on 25 March. Thus in Jane Grey’s own day, her wedding day was recorded as 21 May 1553, her reign lasted from 10 to 19 July 1553, and the date of death was correctly given as 12 February 1553. Great Britain adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 and recognized 1 January as the beginning of the new calendar year thereafter, so that the date of Jane’s death was subsequently correctly given as 12 February 1554.
 
         
 
[3]
 
Hans Holbein died in 1543, when Jane was no more than seven years old. He did not, in fact, ever paint her portrait.
 
         
         
 
     
 
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