Happy birthday Katherine of Aragon

December 16 2011

Image of Happy birthday Katherine of Aragon

Picture: Philip Mould Ltd

The happy coincidence of it being Katherine of Aragon's birthday today*, and the recent sale at Christie's of a portrait of her, allows me to continue my impromptu feast of art historical Tudoriana. The portrait above was found by Philip Mould in 2004 in a minor auction, where it was thought to be a much later copy of a miniature by Lucas Hornebolte. Last week it was sold again by a client of ours at Christie's, where it made a healthy £151,000. It's one of my favourite Tudor portraits, full of symbolism, and we borrowed it for our 'Lost Faces' exhibition in 2006.

The Christie's catalogue summarised the meaning of the picture very well:

...the marmoset is shown reaching for the cross on the Queen's breast, rather than for the proferred coin. In addition to the obvious allegory of the choice of spiritual virtues over worldly gain, the gesture has been interepreted as reflecting the circumstances of the later years of the Queen's marriage to King Henry VIII, during which the King sought various means of ending the marriage, including offering her money; her steadfastness was explained by her piety.

However, I've always though there may be an extra dimension to this picture. Why? Because the coin being rejected by the monkey is clearly an English coin, in this case a groat (as you can see if you zoom in on it). And on the other side of a groat, as you can see below, is a portrait of Henry VIII. The portrait of Katherine may therefore be seen not only as her rejection of riches in favour of faith, but of Henry himself. In which case, it is one of the most daring images of the Tudor period. 

Picture: BG

Update: By the way, the groat on the left is from Henry VII's reign. You can see how Henry VIII's frequent debasing of the currency resulted in his groats, on the right, shrinking.

*with thanks to TudorTutor for alerting me to this.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.