Portrait of an Unknown Lady formerly known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
For many years this was believed to be a portrait of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, daughter of George Duke of Clarence, and a niece to two kings. Tantalisingly the lady is wearing a black ribbon around her wrist with a jewel of gold fashioned like a little barrel. Surely this was Margaret’s tacit recognition and acknowledgment of her father’s death by drowning in a butt of Malmsey?
Close up of the barrel jewel attached to the black ribbon and the W monogram.
I noticed however that this portrait, in the National Portrait Gallery , is now described as that of an Unknown Lady, formerly known as Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Baffled by this turnabout I contacted the Gallery who very kindly clarified the matter for me. In 1963 the portrait underwent detailed investigation by the Gallery’s Scientific Department the results of which showed ‘what appeared to be extensive repainting, including the ermines spots on the headdress, scumbling on the white fur of the sleeves, also the ermine edge to the bodice ‘ (1) but worse still, ‘the gold barrel shaped jewel was almost certainly a later addition as almost certainly were the black ribbon and W monogram jewel. Without stripping the picture it would be impossible to access how accurately it recreates motifs originally there and how far it is ficticious’ However the report goes on to say there is, so far, no reason why the portrait in its original condition should not have represented Margaret Pole, so there is still hope, although ‘ these doubts may only be resolved by the reappearance of another 16th century picture of her that was known to have existed. The W shaped jewel is inexplicable unless the portrait was intended for her granddaughter Winifred'(2). Could it possibly be a direct decendant of Winifred had these additions added to the portrait in homage and draw attention to Winifred’s noble lineage? The portrait was once at Barrington Hall – Winifred Pole had married into the Barringtons and the family prided themselves on their descent from her. Alternatively , the Roy Strong catalogue suggests this could be a 17th or 18th century Barrington lady dressed up as the Countess! Bad news, maybe, for those who once believed this was without a doubt a portrait of Margaret.
The matter is further muddied by notes from Hazel Pierce’s biography of Margaret – Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury, Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership, which state:’ The panel is of oak and tree ring dating suggests that it was felled in 1482 thus the most likely period of use is believed to have been between 1515 and 1525 (3). The notes go on to say that ‘Initially it did appear that the ermine spots on the outer part of the headdress had been painted over the original craquelure, which indicated that these were later additions along with with the ermine spots on the outer sleeves. However when the portrait was finally cleaned in 1973 the ermine spots did not disappear, neither did the barrel bracelet or the ‘W’ suspended from the sitter’s fingers, which suggests they may have been original after all. The barrel will refer to Clarence and the W to Warwick. Therefore the results of the cleaning result once more to the portrait being an authentic likeness of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury. I am grateful to the National Portrait Gallery Archives for this information’ (4).
Finally, perhaps I am mistaken but is there anyone else that can see the similiarities in this portrait of the much older Margaret with that of the young, fuller faced Margaret, as drawn by Rous?
Lady Margarete from The Rous Roll
Is it only me who can detect the similarities of the same almond shaped eyes, and the small rosebud lips?
Lady Margarete from the Rous Roll
If I cannot pursuade you of this – then can I ask for consideration to be given as to why, someone, at a later date, if this were the case which is now doubtful, would take the trouble to add the barrel on the ribbon unless they had known for certain that this portrait was indeed a true likeness of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury?
(1) Roy Strong Tudor and Jacobean Portraits 1969 p 272
(3) Hazel Pierce Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury Loyalty, Lineage and Leadership p.198