Anne Boleyn’s face?

Unknown woman underneath Elizabeth's portrait

Today I want to discuss about ‘Portraith with a serpent’ that depicts Queen Elizabeth Tudor. Underneath Elizabeth’s face there is a portrait of unknown woman.  She is facing opposite direction and in a higher position than the queen. According to National Portrait Gallery, :

 ”The  X-ray shows a female head  in a higher position, facing in the opposite direction to  the portrait of Elizabeth. The eyes and nose of the face  underneath can now be seen where paint has been lost  from Elizabeth’s forehead. The lips and headdress can also  be seen, as can the ruff which was positioned underneath  Elizabeth’s chin. The identity of the original sitter remains  a mystery but the unfinished portrait appears to have been  very competently painted, probably by a different artist.  The original sitter appears to have been wearing a French  hood of a type that was fashionable in the 1570s and 1580s,  suggesting that there may have been a period of a few years  before the panel was re-used.”

If you look closely, you can notice the similarity between unknown woman and … Anne Boleyn!  The oval face with dark dramatic eyes, high cheekbones and full lips bears resemblance to contemporary accounts on Anne Boleyn’s appearance. This portrait looks very similar to NPG and Hever portraits of Anne Boleyn.

The visible French hood may suggest the date of portrait of unknown woman as 1570s or 1580s, but if it is unfinished portrait, than maybe the French hood is as well unfinished?

The question is – why would Elizabeth paint her own portrait on Anne Boleyn’s portrait? There are few options :

-          Perhaps Elizabeth was afraid that later her mother’s portrait will be destroyed, and she found a clever way to hide it ;

-          Maybe Elizabeth wanted to have a portrait with her mother? It would have a highly symbolic meaning ; mother and daughter reunited.

The other interesting thing – Elizabeth was originally painted holding a serpent, but in the end, the serpent was replaced with bunch of roses. Why such a decision was made?

Well, while a serpent was a symbol of wisdom, it was also a symbol of Satan and the original sin. Perhaps Elizabeth realized, that a serpent would arose the question about her legitimacy, and this is why roses where painted instead.

Extraordinary similarity between unknown woman and portraits of Anne Boleyn

I’m curious what d YOU think about this hidden portrait and other portraits of Elizabeth that are similar to Anne? More about portraits here.

Acknowledgement : I wanted to thank Ellie Marianna Moxlex who reminded me about the portrait with a serpent  and showed me her great picture of Anne based on this portrait, and to Paul Cox from National Portrait Gallery.

Bibliography :

“The Subject of Elizabeth”, Louis Montrose

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4 Responses
  1. Areti says:

    you’re right..the simillarity is obvious!What I can’t see is the french hood,call me silly but I can’t discern it :P !Would Elizabeth accept that her portrait would be made on an old panel ..? ohh…I wish we were sure that this is Anne.If she is then she IS beautiful!

    • Sylwia says:

      For me this hidden lady looks quite like Anne from Hever Portrait – eyes, nose and lips! And she has an oval face and dark eyes – wow, matching Anne’s contemporary description a lot! :-)

  2. Areti says:

    yes !! you’re sooo right! :)

  3. Lucy says:

    I am quite bewitched by the ghostly portrait – strong features with a beautifully bold expression. Certainly the sitter has a personality that would fit with what we know of Anne Boleyn. But if as you say the earlier portrait can be dated to 1570 / 80s, how can it be a genuine portrait of Anne?
    Also, was it not fashionable to have images of Anne Boleyn during Elizabeth’s reign? (hence the adaption of Jane Seymour’s Nidd Hall portrait, it is said, and of course all the non-contemporary iconic portraits of AB)? If that was the case, why would Elizabeth cover up a genuine portrait of her mother?

    Nevertheless, it is a hauntingly beautiful portrait of a beautiful woman. I would love to know more….

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