(Fourth Quarter 16th/First Quarter 17th Century)
"Portrait of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1587)"
oil on panel
21-1/2" x 17-1/2"
Notes: Mary Stuart reigned over Scotland from 1542 to1567. She acceded to the throne at six days of age and was forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son James VI after she was suspected of commissioning the murder of her husband and cousin Lord Darnley with her lover Lord Bothwell. With claims to the English throne as well as being the great-granddaughter of Henry VII, Mary tried unsuccessfully to overthrow another cousin, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. For eighteen years, Elizabeth had her imprisoned in various castles and manors in the interior of England, as Mary tried to orchestrate multiple escapes and assassination plots on Elizabeth's life. Mary was eventually executed in 1586 after being implicated in her last attempted coup, the Babbington plot.
For the majority of her incarceration (1570-1584), she was housed at Sheffield Castle under the strict tutelage of George Talbott. Her captivity, however, was befitting of a queen, and she was issued servants, six-course meals, riding time, even commissioned portraits. One of the last known portraits of Mary was painted by Queen Elizabeth's court painter Nicholas Hilliard at Sheffield Castle in 1578. The modest miniature executed with extraordinary bravura would live on in infamy, exceeding Mary for nearly a half century. Following her execution, numerous apocryphal images, known as the "Sheffield portraits", were inspired by the Hilliard one under her son's reign. The painting offered here is a fine example of a "Sheffield portrait", as it portrays the bust of Mary in three-quarter profile as a matron in her thirties wearing the classic atifet hairpiece - a romantic adaptation of the French hood that Mary popularized in the latter half of the 16th century. Two other similar "Sheffield portraits" are conserved in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
The painting has been re-varnished multiple times, and exhibits 2-3 campaigns of light restorative
inpainting. Older inpainting is present to the left cheek, chin, and space between the upper lip and nose.
The shadow under the right eye and line on the brow have also been heightened with inpainting. Small
scattered areas of inpainting are visible along panel edges and corners. More current inpainting has been
applied to strengthen the right jaw line and there is a small crescent-shaped patch at the edge of the hair
where the right earlobe would be. No inpainting was detected in lace or dress. There is a vertical
shrinkage that extends the length of the painting, bisecting the panel, and two minor parallel cracks.
There is a 1/8" x 8" loss to the top left strip of the panel. The painting has been stabilized through the
application of a cradle board on the reverse. There is a tiny loss with exposed gesso along the center top
edge. Craquelure and surface soiling are present throughout. In overall good condition, given age and