On the previous page about the contemporary portraits of Anne of Cleves, I mention an additional portrait. This is it. You may recognise it as a portrait of Catherine Howard; however, it has been very persuasively argued for this being Anne of Cleves. Unlike the disputed portrait of Katherine of Aragon/Mary Tudor, the idea of this portrait being Anne has caused a lot of excitement amongst Tudor historians and enthusiasts alike.
This portrait has long been identified as the only contemporary portrait of Catherine Howard; however, art historian Franny Moyle proposed the idea that this portrait is actually Anne of Cleves. She outlines a number of reasons for this identification.
There is a strong resemblance between this portrait and the known portraits of Anne. The shape of the face, heavy eyelids, and pensive expression do seem to be shared between both ladies. Here are portraits side-by-side for comparison.
Unfortunately we don’t have any contemporary portraits of Catherine Howard to compare this portrait to. We do know that Catherine was probably around 16 years old at the time of her marriage to Henry VIII, but this portrait appears to be of someone older than a teenager. Beyond that, it is difficult to make any definitive arguments for or against this being Catherine. I think there has long been a desire to see this as Catherine due to the dearth of other portraits of her.
Whilst all three other portraits of Anne show her in the Germanic dress of her home country, it is known that she very quickly set them aside in favour of English fashion; in fact she was quite the fashionista! So whilst initially surprising, it is not unexpected to see a portrait of Anne in English dress.
One of the most intriguing pieces of evidence Moyle puts forth is the material used to paint on. Holbein was known for using heavy symbolism in his portraits; more than one book has been written on the hidden symbols in his portrait of Thomas More’s family alone. Which is why it is hard to believe that it is mere coincidence that this portrait is painted on the back of a four of diamonds playing card. Playing cards were popular canvases during this period, for their affordability and accessibility. Anyone familiar with Holbein would agree that he would not paint a portrait of Henry’s fifth wife on the back of the four diamonds.
Whilst this new identification has been met with much excitement and widespread agreement, the Royal Collection Trust which houses the portrait still has the sitter listed as Catherine Howard, hence my choice to make a separate post about it.
The resemblance and the symbolism have me convinced; what are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Catherine or Anne?