Portrait of an Unknown Lady formerly known as Margaret Pole Countess of Salisbury
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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. To continue reading please click here