The lavish costume, ostentatious jewelry, precious devotional objects, and sumptuous setting of this portrait indicate the high status of Mary Wotton, Lady Guildford, at the court of Henry VIII. It is a copy of the well-known portrait of the same sitter in the Saint Louis Art Museum, which is the pendant of the portrait of Sir Henry Guildford in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, both by Hans Holbein the Younger. Mary Wotton was the daughter of Sir Robert Wotton of Boughton Malherbe, Kent. In 1525 she became the second wife of Sir Henry, an important courtier who served the king in several capacities, including as chamberlain of the receipt of the Exchequer. Each of the portraits of the couple is dated 1527, the year in which Sir Henry, as the king’s master of the revels, was charged with making the arrangements for the king to receive an embassy from France at Greenwich, an event planned to celebrate the peace accord with Francis I. This may have been where Guildford first met Holbein (probably the artist referred to in records of the event as "Master Hans"), who was engaged to produce paintings for a banqueting hall and theater at Greenwich. Sir Henry also knew Sir Thomas More and Erasmus, other patrons of Holbein, and they may have introduced him to the esteemed painter. The pendants are among the first that Holbein made after his arrival in England.
Although the Museum’s panel was originally thought to be the pendant of the Windsor Castle portrait of Sir Henry Guildford, and by the hand of Holbein himself, it began to lose its place of prominence when the Saint Louis painting surfaced in 1930. Indeed, if the MMA version is compared with the Saint Louis original, considerable differences in technique and execution are observable. While the copy is fairly faithful, its overall quality does not match that of works accepted as completed by Holbein and his workshop. The execution is not as refined, the techniques do not seem to match with Holbein’s workshop practices, and portions of the painting do not correspond correctly to the original.
The question has been raised whether the Museum’s copy might have been made in Holbein’s workshop during the artist’s lifetime. Arguments against this possibility are supported by evidence derived from the technical examination of the painting, in particular from the study of the underdrawing. It has been well established that Holbein’s habitual working procedure for portraiture was to employ his preparatory drawing of the sitter as a cartoon, tracing its essential features onto the grounded panel with the aid of an interleafing, carbon-coated sheet. This method was used for the Saint Louis painting, which was based on a rendering of Lady Guildford in colored chalks on paper (Kunstmuseum Basel, Kupferstichkabinett). The Museum’s portrait shows no obvious evidence of a traced pattern for Lady Guildford’s facial features. Furthermore, placing a mylar photostat of the Basel drawing over the painting revealed that, even though the painted contours of the eyelids, nose, and mouth coincide to some degree with the drawing, the contour of the face does not, and the forehead has been elongated by shifting the hood farther upward. Holbein’s workshop pattern was therefore clearly not used for this painting. This examination of the underdrawing, coupled with the known details of Holbein’s execution and handling, indicate that the painting was not made in Holbein’s studio by a workshop assistant but rather was copied after Holbein’s painting at a later moment in time.
Clues concerning when the painting might have been made come from x-radiography and dendrochronology. The x-radiograph (see Additional Images) shows that the picture was painted on top of another. Turned 180 degrees, the x-radiograph reveals the fragment of a male figure, specifically the left leg from the thigh to the toes and a tiny portion of the right leg above the knee of a man in aristocratic dress, as well as an undetermined oval object in the lower right corner of the painting. The stance of the figure immediately recalls the pose seen in the official full-length portraits of Henry VIII, which derived from the famous Whitehall Palace mural that Holbein painted in 1537, or in those of Edward VI after his coronation. The painting beneath the image of Lady Guildford is not likely to be one of the portraits of Henry, since the left leg (visible in the x-radiograph) is more vertically positioned than the obliquely angled one of the Henry model; it is thus more similar to the Edward VI portraits. The dendrochronology of the MMA painting indicated that it could have been produced at the earliest in 1540 and more likely in 1546 or later—precisely the period in which the new standing portrait models were painted in multiple versions.
For reasons that cannot at present be determined, the panel first employed for the probable portrait of an aristocratic man was cut down and reused for the Museum’s Lady Guildford. This might have served as a pendant to a missing copy of Holbein’s portrait of her husband or as an independent portrait; no pendant of Sir Henry matching this work is known. The commission for the copy of the original portrait could have come from members of the Guildford family, the Wottons, or extended family members.
[2013; adapted from Ainsworth 2013]
Henry Rumsey Forster. The Stowe Catalogue. London, 1848, p. 163, no. A16, as Lady Guildford by Holbein, sold to H. Rodd; notes that the buyer has since disposed of it to Thomas Frewen of Brickwall House, Northiam, Sussex.
Alfred Woltmann. Holbein and his Time. London, 1872, p. 314, states that he has not seen this portrait of Lady Guildford, formerly at Stowe, but asserts that [Sir George] Scharf considers it original.
Alfred Woltmann. Holbein und seine Zeit. Vol. , Des Kunstlers Familie, Leben und Schaffen. 2nd rev. ed. Leipzig, 1874, p. 344.
Alfred Woltmann. Holbein und seine Zeit. Vol. 2, Excurse, Beilagen, Verzeichnisse der Werke von Hans Holbein d. Ä., Ambrosius Holbein, Hans Holbein d. J.. 2nd rev. ed. Leipzig, 1876, p. 138, no. 206.
[F. G. Stephens]. "The Royal Academy.—Winter Exhibition (Second Notice)." Athenæum no. 2725 (January 17, 1880), pp. 92–94, calls it a once fine portrait, "much rubbed, repaired, and over-varnished," but certainly a genuine Holbein; describes it in detail and with admiration.
Gerald S. Davies. Hans Holbein the Younger. London, 1903, p. 219, as by Holbein, incorrectly locates it in the collection of T. Frewen.
"Four Paintings Lent by Mr. William K. Vanderbilt." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 2 (March 1907), p. 45, as by Holbein, the companion to the portrait of Sir Henry Guildford at Windsor.
William Bode. "More Spurious Pictures Abroad Than in America." New York Times (December 31, 1911), p. SM4.
Paul Ganz. Hans Holbein d. J.: Des Meisters Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1912, pp. 227, 253 (note to p. 227), refers to our portrait as Holbein's original in publishing the miniature belonging to Mrs. Joseph, London; mentions a drawing in Basel that must be considered a study for our painting, in spite of many differences.
Arthur B. Chamberlain. Hans Holbein the Younger. London, 1913, vol. 1, pp. 320–21; vol. 2, p. 348, erroneously identifies it with the portrait of "Lady Guldeford" by Holbein in the Lumley Castle inventory of 1590 and adds that it was later in the collection of the Duke of Buckingham at Stowe; accepts it as a once fine portrait, now much rubbed and repaired.
Lionel Cust. "The Lumley Inventories." Walpole Society 6 (1918), p. 26, publishes the 1590 Lumley inventory and erroneously identifies the portrait of "Lady Guilfourd" listed in it as the example formerly with Mr. Frewen and now with Mr. Vanderbilt.
"The William K. Vanderbilt Bequest." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15 (December 1920), p. 268, ill. on front cover.
"Pictures Lent for the Fiftieth Anniversary Exhibition." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15 (August 1920), p. 184, mentions a drawing, "evidently for the portrait," in the gallery at Basel.
Mary F. S. Hervey. The Life, Correspondence & Collections of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, 'Father of Vertu in England'. Cambridge, 1921, p. 482, erroneously lists this picture as no. 186 in the 1655 Arundel inventory.
H. A. Schmid in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 17, Leipzig, 1924, p. 344, calls it a heavily restored painting by Holbein.
Paul Ganz. "An Unknown Portrait by Holbein the Younger." Burlington Magazine 47 (September 1925), pp. 113–14.
W. R. V[alentiner]. "The Portrait of Sir Harry Guildford by Hans Holbein the Younger." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 8 (December 1926), p. 28, as "rightly said to be a copy of the period".
Wilhelm Stein. Holbein. Berlin, 1929, p. 151, calls it a copy of a lost original by Holbein.
H. A. Schmid. Die Werke Hans Holbeins in Basel. Exh. cat.Basel, 1930, pp. 25, 75–76, pl. 10, calls it an old copy or a very badly damaged original, noting that it corresponds to the Basel drawing.
Mary Evans. Costume Throughout the Ages. Philadelphia, 1930, ill. p. 136, describes the portrait as having the "feminine headdress and neck line of the period of Henry VIII".
Paul Ganz. Hans Holbein's Portrait of Lady Guildford: A Comparative Study [unpublished brochure for St. Louis painting]. December 3, 1932, unpaginated, ill., considers the picture in St. Louis [Saint Louis Art Museum] the original work by Holbein, and our painting a copy after it.
C. N. "Paintings by Old Masters." Burlington Magazine 67 (July 1935), p. 41, asserts that the name is more properly spelled "Gudeford".
Shane Leslie. Letters and unpublished manuscript. 1935–36, concludes that both our portrait and the one in St. Louis were at Lumley Castle.
Charles L. Kuhn. A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1936, p. 80, no. 353, pl. LXXIII, as by Holbein, somewhat over-restored; suggests that the version with Colnaghi, London [by then with Saint Louis Art Museum], may be the original.
Max J. Friedlaender. "The Literature of Art: A Catalogue of German Paintings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in American Collections, by Charles L. Kuhn ." Burlington Magazine 69 (July 1936), p. 44, notes that "the fact that the 'Portrait of Lady Guildford' in the Metropolitan Museum is a weak copy might have been stated more definitely".
Paul Ganz Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel. "Zwei Werke Hans Holbeins d. J. aus der Frühzeit des ersten englischen Aufenthalts." Festschrift zur Eröffnung des Kunstmuseums. Basel, 1936, p. 156, states that before the original portrait of Lady Guildford was found, the MMA panel, which is slightly smaller, was thought to be the prototype; identifies the sitter as Mary Wotton, the second wife of Sir Henry.
Wilhelm Waetzoldt. Hans Holbein der Jüngere: Werk und Welt. Berlin, 1938, p. 205, pl. 105, considers it an old copy of the original with Colnaghi [by then with St. Louis Art Museum].
Katherine Morris Lester and Bess Viola Oerke. An Illustrated History of Those Frills and Furbelows of Fashion Which Have Come to be Known as Accessories of Dress. Peoria, Ill., 1940, pl. VII [reprinted as "Accessories of Dress: An Illustrated Encyclopedia," Mineola, N.Y., 2004].
Charles Nagel Jr. "Holbein's 'Lady Guldeford'." Bulletin of the City Art Museum of St. Louis 28 (May 1943), p. 7 [reprinted in part in Art Quarterly 6 (1943), p. 70].
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 223–25, ill., as "Lady Guldeford (or Guilford)"; call it a sixteenth-century copy after Hans Holbein the Younger and mention the St. Louis picture as generally accepted as Holbein's original.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 428, no. 1143, ill. (cropped).
Heinrich Alfred Schmid. Hans Holbein der Jüngere: Sein Aufstieg zur Meisterschaft und sein englischer Stil. Vol. 1–2, Basel, 1948, vol. 1, pp. 83, 118; vol. 2, pp. 282, 289, 300, refers to the St. Louis portrait as "another version" of ours and comments on the similar pilaster in the Erasmus portrait of 1523 in London [on loan to National Gallery, London].
Holbein and His Contemporaries. Exh. cat., John Herron Art Museum. Indianapolis, 1950, unpaginated, under no. 34, mentions our picture as an early copy of the St. Louis portrait.
Paul Ganz. The Paintings of Hans Holbein. London, 1950, p. 232, under no. 45, as a smaller copy of the painting in St. Louis; notes that Lady Guildford outlived her husband and later married Sir Gaw[a]in Carew.
Hans Werner Grohn in L'opera pittorica completa di Holbein il Giovane. Milan, 1971, pp. 96–97, no. 54, ill., appears to identifiy the picture at Stowe and our portrait as two separate works and erroneously includes Sir John Ramsden in the provenance.
John Fletcher. Letter to John Pope-Hennessy. March 5, 1982, based on dendrochronological analysis concludes that the panel cannot have been used before 1550 and was most likely used between 1550 and 1560; suggests an attribution to Hans Eworth, who copied other Holbein portraits; hypothesizes about possible descendants of the sitter who might have commissioned this copy.
John Rowlands. Holbein: The Paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger. Oxford, 1985, p. 133, under no. 26, notes that "it is generally agreed that the St. Louis painting is by Holbein and that the New York version is a copy"; mentions a later miniature copy without the background in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London [see Ref. Ganz 1912; apparently no longer there].
Maryan Ainsworth. "'Paternes for phiosioneamyes': Holbein's Portraiture Reconsidered." Burlington Magazine 132 (March 1990), p. 178 n. 132, notes that infrared reflectography revealed no underdrawing.
D. M. Klinger and Antje Höttler. Die Malerbrüder Ambrosius und Hans d. J. Holbein. Cheb, Czech Republic, 1998, p. 128.
Peter Klein. Letter to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. April 24, 2006, concludes from dendrochronological analysis that the earliest creation date for the painting is 1540 and that creation is more plausible from 1546 upwards.
Maryan W. Ainsworth in German Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1350–1600. New Haven, 2013, pp. 162–66, 307–8, no. 39, ill. (color) and fig. 138 (x-radiograph turned 180 degrees).