Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C 26 Who is the sitter, if not Blanche Parry (1508–1590)?

Said to be Blanche Parry (1508–1590)
Topic: Subject or sitter

While it would be wonderful if this were Blanche Parry, Queen Elizabeth I's constant companion for 56 years, it is most unlikely. Blanche was born in 1507/1508 and died on Thursday 12th February 1590 (modern dating), aged 82.

This portrait is of a young woman wearing the fashionable court dress of the later 16th century – the hat and ruff are styles in fashion after c.1575. Both the style of clothes and the date mean that the sitter cannot be Blanche, but she could be one of Blanche's many god-daughters, many of whom were named Blanche, and/or a descendant of one of Blanche's Parry cousins.

The painting was previously designated ‘Portrait of an Elizabethan Lady’ and by Federico Zuccaro (c.1542–1609), who was in England for only six months in 1575.

For more referenced details and discussion of portraits of Blanche Parry, which include her known portrait, her monumental sculpture in Bacton Church, Herefordshire, and her funerary sculpture in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, see Ruth E. Richardson, 'Mistress Blanche, Queen Elizabeth I's Confidante' (2018) and https://bit.ly/2yKHFyl

The whereabouts of this picture of Blanche Parry (1508–1590), if it still exists, are unknown (image attached).

RE Richardson, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Osmund Bullock,

You are right that this cannot be Blanche Parry - in fact she was almost certainly dead by the time it was painted. This is a portrait of the 1590s, possibly even a touch later (c.1575 is much too early), based on distinctive elements in the sitter's dress - e.g. sleeve shape, open ruff, the deeply-pointed bodice and the 'great farthingale' supporting a very wide skirt (with pleated over-skirt). See the Ditchley portrait of the Queen for comparable elements: https://bit.ly/2AhmKoG . There are several even better analogues in Roy Strong's 'The English Icon', all dating from the 1590s.

Once lost, Elizabethan portrait identities are hard to recover even when there is something helpful painted on it. Here we seem to have no coat-of-arms, no cartellino, no date/age or other inscription - not even a cryptic motto or line or two of verse to wrestle with. The best hope lies in interpreting some symbolism in what the sitter is wearing - a specialist skill that I don't really possess.

There is a chance that the jewellery may yield a clue - the badge-like brooch on her sleeve, for example, might perhaps have heraldic significance. It's worth a shot anyway - Marion, any chance of a higher-res close-up of that? And also of the jewels at her neck - could the lower ones be doubled S's...and is that perhaps a globe above? Oh, and while we're at it, the central jewels on her hair - especially the top one - deserve a closer look, if possible.

S. Elin Jones,

Is there any record as to where or when Newport City Council bought the painting?
Or any provenance please?

Elin, Newport City Council will probably have a record, but I don't know whether it would have been part of the loan documentation. Not necessarily, unless anyone asks for it. I will try to find out next week.

Angela Lennox,

Just looking at the jewelry thanks to the great pictures from Marion.
The lady is holding the long pearl necklace which indicates she is still virtuous. There is also no rings visible on either hand however, there is a pendant on the left sleeve which could be a token of love or a declaration of betrothal (heart on sleeve). The pendant is made up of
Pearls -virginity, loyalty,
Ruby - passion and lust
Garnets - representing a pomegranate and the seeds of virility, fruitfulness.
As this hangs, it is a pendant rather than a brooch which would have a bar. A pendant is a common gift for the times where-as a brooch would be a symbol of office.
The necklace is even more interesting and has a lot of detail in it
The necklace has the crescent moons and five pointed stars (mullet) and in jewelry terms the moon is a symbol of serenity and the 5 pointed star is a symbol of the 5 wounds of Christ.
In heraldic terms the crescent moon with its pointed aimed upwards is "honoured by sovereign" whilst the star is "Honour and hope".
The simplified globe in the centre is surrounded by the 5 pointed stars and crescents moons. Is this reference to Atlas holding the sky on his shoulders for eternity or a reference to sailing the world, guided by the moon and stars?
The bend compony (angled sash) going across the globe in a series of 2 coloured square stones is a symbols of “Constancy" in heraldic terms.
The diamonds in the necklace are all pyramid cut which means it dates to before 1570. After 1570, the diamonds were cut to an emerald cut and refract more light making them appear white in colour and round. The older ones look black and pointed on a triangle or square base. It may also be that the jewelry was older and passed down.
Under the moon and stars, there are 2 hanging pendants which have the letter S intertwined in a mirror image. Could this be for Southwell?

James Fairhead,

What great photos and what a great interpretation. Perhaps, then, this is Elizabeth Sydenham who became Francis Drake’s second wife. There are several reasons. First, the globe and it circumnavigation in this jewellery device matches exactly Drake’s device concerning his voyages in portraits of him. Second, this same jewel uses Drake’s ‘double star’ arms (‘fess wavy between two pole-stars Arctic and Antarctic’) that Elizabeth I gave to Drake in 1581 after his return from the circumnavigation in 1581. What is wavy between the stars if not the navigated globe? That the stars are five pointed is no problem as Drake’s stars took many forms, and the five pointed ‘five wounds of Christ’ might only add to the multiple significances. Third, Drake is famous for using celestial navigation (sun, moon and stars) on his voyages, and the moon (often in eclipse) is a common device used on describing his voyages. That this also means ‘honoured by the Sovereign’, as Angela Lennox describes, makes further sense, for this is exactly what Drake was. Fourth, the S motif on the jewels below can be taken to describe the Sydenham family that is attached in marriage to Drake. Fifth, it seems to me perfectly possible that the large pendant is either the ‘Drake Jewel’ itself (inverse side, with portrait of Queen Elizabeth covered by its lid) or more probably a companion to it that his wife wore. Another portrait of Elizabeth Sydenham (at Buckland Abby, https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/elizabeth-sydenham-lady-drake-147703/view_as/grid/search/keyword:sydenham/page/1 ) shows her wearing such a jewel that sports three pearls in the similar format to this one here, but perhaps the other way up, with a more circular ring of jewels akin to that found on the opposite side of Drake’s jewel. In this other portrait of Elizabeth Sydenham the cameo seems to depict a white figure that contrasts with the celebrated Afro-Caribbean cameo on Drake’s jewel. That Elizabeth Sydenham may have had a companion jewel is suggested by a contemporary portrait of Drake wearing his own jewel that then only had a single pearl (https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/sir-francis-drake-15401596-174654/view_as/grid/search/keyword:francis-drake/page/1 ).
If anyone else wore this Jewellery, Elizabeth Sydenham might have had reason to be a little angry. These would seem to be recycled royal stones, and one might suspect even a present from Elizabeth herself (they married in 1585).

Howard Jones,

If this was picture of Drakes 2nd wife we might expect a ring on her finger. The Lady in the Buckland Abby painting is wearing four or five rings, and I do not think the face is a good match. Otherwise James' analysis of the symbolism in this painting appears to be very astute.

James Fairhead,

This is a fascinating picture, thanks especially to the high quality photos that Marion has put up. I missed something in my last post: the compasses that are part of the lace, 'hiding in plain view' as it were. I wonder if anyone can identify the flowers (or trees). This is surely 'nautical'. I attach some images that show the close connection with Raleigh.

Kathleen Crowther,

The globe-like object in the jewelry is an armillary sphere. It's very similar to one Elizabeth I has pinned to her sleeve in the Rainbow Portrait (detail attached). Jean Wilson gives multiple examples of armillary spheres on clothing, jewelry and other objects associated with Elizabeth's court. “Queen Elizabeth I as Urania” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 69 (2006), pp. 151-173

Kieran Owens,

Elizabeth I wears an armillary or celestial sphere ear-ring in the "Ditchely Portrait" (see attachment). She also has them embroidered into the fabric of her dress in this Christies sale lot from 2013:


Similarly shaped spheres can be seen on the sleeves of the 1568 portrait of Sir Henry Lee (c1533 - c1611) by Antonis Mor (1517 - 1577):


There might also be some merit is investigating the presence of the armillary sphere and the use of that device by Elizabeth I's mother's family of Boleyn. In this regard, see the article in Notes & Queries of 30th May 1868 on Great Forsters house, near Egham. The final line of the article describes the use of the armillary sphere in the house: "It is adjusted to a handle for convenient use, and consists of a framework that represents the general structure of the system of which our globe forms part - the sphere traversed diagonally by the zodiac."


S. Elin Jones,

The initial information says:
The painting was previously designated ‘Portrait of an Elizabethan Lady’ and by Federico Zuccaro (c.1542–1609), who was in England for only six months in 1575.

Can anyone tell me where this information is from please?
Is it in relation to this painting? or am I reading it wrong?

Osmund Bullock,

I imagine it's from the National Trust file on the painting. It's true it's not given on their website - but this is probably because previous attributions to Zuccaro are pretty much always ignored by art historians. His name was routinely attached by dealers to Elizabethan and even early Jacobean portraits in the late C19th-early 20th, rather as those of Gainsborough, Reynolds or Romney were to anything late C18th.

I'm afraid Zuccaro is a complete red herring, as it is now known he was in England for just a few months in 1575, and painted only two portraits - full-lengths of Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley, Lord Leicester. As the sitter's dress testifies, our portrait dates from some twenty years later, give or take.

Elin, your two questions are answered in an email from Ruth Richardson (the enquirer, R. E. Richardson):
'- Indeed, when I enquired [of the National Trust] I was told that it had originally been simply designated as an Unknown Elizabethan Lady.
- The lady responsible at the time of enquiry said Zuccaro was the painter. Subsequently, Gheeraerts has appeared on Wikipedia....'

S. Elin Jones,

As has been mentioned, the necklace worn in the painting is an armillary sphere. Queen Elizabeth utilised a variety of these emblems and motifs in her official portraits, the armillary sphere being one of them. They can be seen in various images of her and her courtiers. Spheres, snakes and knots were embroidered onto the garments and worn as jewelry. It was worn by the Queen and used as a badge of loyalty amongst many of her courtiers. There are a number of theories and much information is available with regards to the symbolism.

There are a few points that I can't help wondering about with regards to this painting.

Items sold at auction can inevitably be scattered far and wide.
If the paintings and artefacts of the Morgan Family were sold at auction by Lord Tredegar in the early 50's, how did so many of them manage to get back into the ownership of the local council?

There is a document online at the Newport Museum that states that they think that paintings were gradually bought back. Considering the amount of paintings (and artefacts) involved, wouldn't this have been a little difficult especially considering budgetary constraints on Local Authorities.

If so many were bought back then wouldn't at least a few records of payment, accession or even a mention in an end of year report exist?

This painting has been in the company of the rest of the Morgan collection since at least the 1930's.

As can be seen in the attachment the painting was exhibited in The National Museum of Wales as 'Queen Elizabeth' in 1934. By the time it was exhibited again in the same Museum in 1948 it had lost it's title. The title of the painting had also been changed to 'Called 'Blanche Parry and the artist was anonymous. The information in the catalogue stated that the identity was doubtful

I've read through the various Inventories of the Tredegar and Dderw Estates from 1676 -1923. Some of these are extremely vague.
e.g. Portrait of a Lady - Gilt frame. In this case the closest I have been able to find is:
"A 3/4 length portrait on panel in gilt frame
(Lady with Elizabethian custume)" spelling as seen.
Although it sounds very similar, there is no way of knowing for definate if it is the same painting.

Interestingly, there were reports that the local Corporation had sought to buy the property in 1951 to aleviate the overcrowding on 6 on local schools and had submitted planning permission in 1952 to develop the house and land for this purpose but were refused the appropriate planning permission.

Would an authority apply for planning permission on something it did not own?
Could the Authority have bought the building and land earlier and leased it out to the Catholic Church?
Could some of the artifacts have been part of the deal?

When Lord Tredegar sold the building in the 50's he also donated his papers to the National Library. He also allowed Dr Iorwerth Peate, keeper-in-charge (later Curator) of the Welsh Folk Museum, St. Fagans Castle to choose 30 pieces of furniture for the Museum. St Fagan Fol Museum had only just been set up in 1948.
Could it be that some of the Tredegar paintings were donated to the Museum in Newport at the time?

It would be really helpful if Newport museum could have a look into their archives to see if there are any record of the Tredegar Paintings In their collection. Unfortunately, the National Trust has very little little information on the majority of them other than they were from the collection of Newport Museum.

1 attachment
Jacinto Regalado,

I agree this picture looks to be 1590s. It is currently listed as "possibly" by Gheeraerts the Younger, who was then in his 30s, but I think it is closer in style to the older Robert Peake (c. 1551-1619). Compare to the Peake below, especially the handling of the skirt:


This differs from Gheeraerts's Ditchley portrait of QEI (c. 1592):


Whaley Turco,

This is the ONLY verified Portrait done by Zuccaro. I would say notice everything, but in particular look at her hands and her posture. She is also wearing that dress as opposed to it wearing her. Some people are now claiming that he also did the Damley Portrait of Elizabeth 1st and it's the missing Portrait that he is Known to have painted. I'm gonna say No on the same basis is said No to this one. The hands and the body. http://www.historicalportraits.com/Gallery.asp?Page=Item&ItemID=1227&Desc=Margherita-of-Savoy-|-Federico-Zuccaro

Whaley Turco,

Here is a short History of Robert Dudley and Elizabeth 1st. As you know Dudley was her constant companion and he wanted to marry her. Jump to 1575 and he invites her to his Home in the hopes of getting her to agree. Many Portraits of Both of them were painted. That Might be one of them. Dudley did have portraits of himself and Elizabeth painted by Zuccaro. Only the preliminary drawings are known to exist. The Marriage never happened but they parted on good terms and remained lifelong friends. Casting doubt on anyone destroying the paintings. https://www.historyextra.com/period/elizabethan/princely-pleasures-at-kenilworth-robert-dudleys-three-week-marriage-proposal-to-elizabeth-i/

Jacinto Regalado,

The Zuccaro attribution, of course, never had legs, even apart from stylistic considerations, since this picture is too late for that. However, Zuccaro's visit to England prompted a great number of such improbable attributions, even though only two drawings in the British Museum are firmly attributed to him from that visit.

Louis Musgrove,

Jacinto- those two Robert peake paintings have a lot of similarity with this painting- almost as if the artist used the same stencils for the body and skirt of each one...So Peake a good possibility.

Kaitlyn Holm,

I recognize that this discussion is old, but would it be okay if I added some insight to it?

I've been looking for references to this painting for the past year and a half or so, in particular after E. Jones' fantastic 25/09 post on the dress and decoration.

Would it be appropriate to add it to the discussion? I also have theory on the S motif.

If it's not appropriate to add any discussion to this topic, I apologize for the interruption, and hope you all have a most marvelous day.

Jacinto Regalado,

It can be agreed upon that this Elizabethan lady is not Blanche Parry. It is not fine enough for Gheeraerts, certainly not prime Gheeraerts. Compare to https://bit.ly/3g60HJj and https://bit.ly/3E9bsm0

Robert Peake could do better, but not consistently. The picture may be too early for John de Critz and definitely too early for Paul van Somer, whose English work is entirely Jacobean. I suppose British Scholl will do, or perhaps Anglo-Netherlandish School, but expert opinion would be most desirable.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

jpg, png, pdf, doc, xls (max 6MB)
Drop your files here
Attach a file Start uploading

Sign in

By signing in you agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes our use of cookies.