The Queen’s Old Clothes…and Frame…Expose Her


For quite a while, at least since the 19th century, visitors to Lambeth Palace viewed with respect that portrait of Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife. They admired her red and gold dress, her shiny pearl necklace.

Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon

Then recently experts from the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) sauntered in to examine Catherine’s fine figure. Rather than Parr excellence, they found Henry VIII’s first Catherine, of Aragon-the woman he pushed aside for Anne Boleyn. The portrait’s key revelations: that dress. And that face. Oh, and the frame.

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The Guardian reports:

The NPG’s Charlotte Bolland called it “an exciting discovery”, made when gallery staff went to Lambeth Palace to research its portrait of William Warham, the man who married Henry and Catherine as archbishop of Canterbury in 1509.

During the visit the Catherine portrait was spotted. “It was immediately apparent that it was in a very early frame, something which was a relatively rare survival from the early 16th century. It was a way of frame-making that went out of fashion. That was a kind of instant sign that it was something quite interesting.”

Then the authorities, rather than bringing in the Lord High Constable, opted for high tech. The Guardian again:

Lambeth Palace allowed the painting to be taken to the NPG’s conservation studio where x-ray and infrared research helped lead to the conclusion that it was in fact Catherine of Aragon.

So now, fate has brought Henry and his estranged spouse together again. Starting Jan. 25, Henry’s and Catherine’s portraits will hang side by side, nearly 500 years after they were painted, in NPG’s Room 1.

The clarifying of Catherines joins other British art revelations.

Earlier this month, The Telegraph reported that a manuscripts librarian at the National Library of Wales had discovered a long-lost royal “treasure” — a rare and previously unknown picture of the young Henry VIII mourning the death of his mother, Elizabeth of York.

Queen Elizabeth II

Meanwhile, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, banished and stuck in storage for nearly 61 years, is being displayed in Liverpool’s St. George’s Hall to celebrate the queen’s diamond jubilee. Says The Telegraph:

The controversial painting was once banned from Liverpool town hall because it looked nothing like the Queen and her neck was “too long”. Embarrassed council chiefs ordered it to be hidden from public view in the vaults…

…Even the artist John Napper, who created it in 1952, famously said it was “a beautiful painting of a queen, but not this Queen”.

Napper ended up painting a second version, which was accepted and hangs to this day in Liverpool’s town hall.