This is not Anne Boleyn
(re-blogged from Lissa Bryan’s guest post on The History Geeks, in response to this article)
This “new portrait of Anne Boleyn” has been making the rounds in social media, and now is being publicized in several news articles.
It is not Anne Boleyn.
The sketch that is circulating is a third-hand copy of a painting that used to be in the collection of Horace Walpole. He was given the painting by a lady of the court who identified it as Joan, Baroness Bergavenny. Walpole had no reason to doubt this identification, and added it to his collection. The painting was sold in the 1840s, and has apparently vanished from existence.
Now, a “historian” has identified it as being Anne Boleyn. But there are serious problems with this identification, which I will break down here.
The earliest sketch of the painting looks quite a bit different than the one that is circulating. The necklace is missing the “R” initial that sparked so much excitement. The description of the original painting when it was sold states that the necklace had only the initials “A” and “B.”) While that, on its own sounds exciting, we need to remember there were many women of the Tudor court that had those initials. The “R” initial was an invention of the sketch artist who either copied the image incorrectly, or decided to add his own touch of whimsy.
The woman’s clothing is completely wrong for an identification as Anne Boleyn. The style of the hood puts the image firmly in the early 1520s. The lappets – the white part of the hood – almost reach the woman’s collarbone. In the 1530s, lappets were chin length, as you can see in Anne’s portrait medal. They got shorter as the 1530s wore on, and by 1536 when Anne went to the scaffold, they were at about mouth level.
It was also fashionable in Anne’s time for the veil to be pinned up to the side of the hood, as you can see in the medal. The sitter in the sketch has a veil hanging straight down. (Look at the portrait medal and see how the veil is clumped on the left side of the head.)
The gown itself dates more to the 1520s, as well. The neckline is square and covers the shoulders. The necklines in the 1530s had gone wider, making them more rectangular and revealing more of the shoulders. The white bands at the shoulders had disappeared by Anne’s reign, as well.
Anne Boleyn was known to always be at the height of style and an innovator in fashion. She would not have worn something so out-of-date as queen.
Anne Boleyn was not rich enough in the early 1520s to afford the jewels the sitter wears, nor would she have been able to wear them due to the sumptuary laws. In the Hever/NPG portraits, the most famous and recognizable images of Anne, she is wearing jewels more appropriate to her station. It should be noted that those portraits were painted after Anne’s death, but they’re thought to be based on a lost original.
Anne was either thirteen years old or twenty years old in 1520 (depending on the birth date you believe.) The sitter in the sketch is clearly a middle-aged woman, not a young girl. Even the description of the painting says the sitter is a middle-aged woman.
The hood has the letter “I” and “A” repeated. The “I” initials are larger than the “A”s. This lady’s given name started with an “I” or a “J.” “A” was a secondary name, given less importance.There is simply no way to explain the “I” initials in the context of Anne Boleyn.
Anne favored the HA cipher after her marriage. She and Henry put it on everything from her personal jewels to the buildings erected during her reign. If it wasn’t “HA” it was “AR” or “ARS” for Anna Regina Sovereign. It’s inexplicable for her to revert back to a simple “A” with no mention of her marriage or royal status – via crown jewels or other symbols – anywhere in the image.
The sitter in the sketch is not royal. She’s obviously rich and titled, but she has no indications of royalty whatsoever. If this really was a coronation portrait, Anne would have worn some of the crown jewels, such as the “consort’s necklace” all of Henry’s queens after Anne are painted wearing.
The sitter is holding a carnation flower, which has been said by the historian to stand for “coronation.” I know of no other portraits in which that symbology was employed. The carnation generally stood for marriage or betrothal.
The most reasonable interpretation for the image is the one Walpole was given. This is a painting of Joan, Lady Bergavenny, likely painted posthumously. (It was common for posthumous paintings to be styled in the latest fashions. See the portrait of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon for an example.) The painting was meant to celebrate the union of the Arundel and Bergavenny houses through the marriage of Lady Joan, hence the initials “A”, “B” and “I”, with the latter being the largest because it identifies the sitter. The carnation then has its usual meaning of marriage.
I cannot say that the identification of Lady Bergavenny is absolutely certain. But I am certain that the sitter in the sketch is not Anne Boleyn.