Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Portrait of a Woman

British Painter (ca. 1600)
ca. 1600
Oil on wood
44 1/2 x 34 3/4 in. (113 x 88.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1911
Accession Number:
Not on view
The wealth and elevated social status of this Elizabethan woman is suggested by her elaborate dress and jewels. Reflecting the influence of paintings by Nicholas Hilliard, this portrait and another of the same sitter at Parham Park in Sussex may be dated about 1600.
Although formerly called a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, this is not she, as Roy Strong (1963) was the first to point out. The famous Ditchley Portrait (National Portrait Gallery, London), commissioned from Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger in 1592, shows the queen as she wished to be perceived—a haughty, iconic figure standing on a map of England. By contrast, the lady here, while costumed in the highest style, is of a rather gentle demeanor, and emblems of rank are entirely absent.

The work was sold in 1909 as by Federico Zuccaro and published in 1934 (Morse) as attributed to Lucas de Heere. Both Zuccaro and De Heere were in London only in the 1570s, which on grounds of costume is too early. Strong (1983) referred to the style as in the manner of the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, a designation rejected by Graham Reynolds (1983). Reynolds proposed a date of about 1590, whereas Strong preferred 1595–1600. The later date may be more likely based on the costume, which has a little of the flavor of dress in the first years of the reign of James I (1603–25) and Anne of Denmark.

The most important jewel the sitter wears, the aigrette pinned to her bodice, also appears in a portrait of a woman at Parham Park, Sussex. The black stones are table-cut diamonds set in gold, perhaps with enamel, and with a pear-shaped pearl drop suspended at the base. Reynolds and Strong believe that the two paintings represent the same person and are by the same hand.

The most fashionable ladies at Queen Elizabeth’s court were her maids of honor, and the queen preferred that they dress in gowns of white, silver, and gold to set off her favorite colors, white and black (Jane Ashelford, Dress in the Age of Elizabeth I, New York, 1988, p. 8). She often gave clothes from her wardrobe, as well as jewelry, to members of her household or immediate circle. It must be assumed that this was a young woman of great wealth and high standing, if not of noble birth, who was present at court.

[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Henry North Holroyd, 3rd Earl of Sheffield, Sheffield Park, Sussex (until d. 1909; his estate sale, Christie's, London, December 11, 1909, no. 125, as "Portrait of Queen Elizabeth. In richly embroidered white dress, with lace ruff and head-dress, holding her fan in her right hand," by F. Zucchero, on panel, 42 1/2 by 33 in., for £525 to Sabin); [Frank T. Sabin, London, from 1909]; J. Pierpont Morgan, London and New York (until 1911)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion," May 3–September 4, 2006, unnumbered cat. (p. 149).

H. K. Morse. Elizabethan Pageantry. London, 1934, p. 128, ill. p. 57, as attributed to Lucas de Heere.

Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 2, p. 561, no. 1468, ill.

Roy Strong. Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I. Oxford, 1963, p. 48, lists it, with works wrongly identified as Queen Elizabeth, as another court lady.

Graham Reynolds. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. June 20, 1983, dates it about 1590 on the basis of the costume, notes that he has not found any evidence that the jewel belonged to Queen Elizabeth I, states that the sitter in the Parham portrait is obviously the same, and offers further suggestions about her identity.

Graham Reynolds. Letter to Katharine Baetjer. July 21, 1983, disagrees with Strong's description [see Ref. 1983] of the picture as in the Manner of Nicholas Hilliard, as well as with Strong's suggestion that Elizabeth, daughter of Edward 11th Lord Zouche, might be the sitter.

Roy Strong in Artists of the Tudor Court: The Portrait Miniature Rediscovered, 1520–1620. Exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 1983, pp. 87–88, states that this picture and no. 111, the Parham Park picture, are certainly by the same painter and portray the same sitter; gives the authorship of the Parham picture as Manner of Nicholas Hilliard.

Janet Arnold. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd: The Inventories of the Wardrobe of Robes Prepared in July 1600 Edited from Stowe MS 557 in the British Library . . . Leeds, 1988, pp. 225–26, 269, figs. 327, 328, 356 (overall and details), dates it about 1600 and discusses the costume.

Susan North in English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580–1700: 'Twixt Art and Nature. Ed. Andrew Morrall and Melinda Watt. Exh. cat., Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture. New Haven, 2008, p. 41, figs. 1-6 (gallery installation photograph), 3-3 (color).

Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 8–10, no. 4, ill. (color).

Related Objects

Mary, Queen of Scots, with Her Son, James

Artist: Style of 16th-century British Painter (19th century) Date: 19th century Medium: Oil on slate Accession: 17.190.2 On view in:Not on view

Eye Miniature

Artist: British Painter (early 19th century) Medium: Ivory Accession: 54.128.1 On view in:Not on view

Portrait of a Man

Artist: British Painter (ca. 1690) Medium: Oil on copper Accession: 15.43.302 On view in:Not on view

A Man with the Initials RH

Artist: British Painter (ca. 1780) Medium: Card Accession: 95.14.96 On view in:Not on view

Portrait of a Man

Artist: British Painter (ca. 1750) Medium: Enamel Accession: 62.122.113 On view in:Not on view