Mary Boleyn: The Great and Infamous Whore by Alison Weir


  Certainly the miniature dates from the mid-1520s. The Toronto version is inscribed ANNO XXV, showing that the sitter was in her twenty-fifth year; and it is possible that Mary could have been born in 1500, making her twenty-four in 1524/5, which would coincide with Horenbout’s first year in England. The brooch is possibly symbolic—a kneeling woman represented deference, humility, and subordination, and was often a ritual image suggesting the marriage bond, so this sitter is almost certainly a married woman. It could also represent a mythological or allegorical figure.

  At that time, however, the portrait miniature had only just been introduced into England, and was an expensive novelty, sought after by a king and nobles eager to be at the forefront of artistic fashion. With Horenbout, the chief master of the form, being a court painter, most early English miniatures are therefore of royalty, with only a few exceptions. The sitter in this pair of miniatures, however, does not resemble any royal lady of the mid-1520s. The age of the sitter excludes Katherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk. It is of course possible that if Sir Thomas Boleyn was responsible for bringing Horenbout to England, he then commissioned a work or works to demonstrate the limner’s craft in order to win his protégé commissions; it follows too that he might have chosen one of his daughters as a sitter. If this is Mary—and that is a big “if”—the portrait could have been painted to mark the birth of her daughter; and if that daughter had been fathered by Henry VIII, there was all the more reason to commission a likeness.

  Normally, the existence of duplicated portraits suggests that there was some demand for the image of an important or royal personage, but it is credible in this case that a second miniature may have been painted for William Carey. Furthermore, the suggested Boleyn link to Horenbout is strengthened by the fact that the latter was appointed King’s Painter in 1531 when Anne Boleyn was riding high in the King’s favor; this grant of office was confirmed three years later, on the day before George Boleyn was made Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.20 All this is speculation, though, and without any more evidence to go on, the identity of the sitter in these miniatures must remain in question.

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