HOLBEIN, Hans the Younger
(b. 1497, Augsburg, d. 1543, London)

Portrait of a Lady

Oil on wood, 72 x 50 cm
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio

The identity of the sitter has not been determined, though her age is inscribed on the painting: ETATIS SVA 21 ("21st year of her age"). From the nineteenth century until well into the twentieth century the portrait was believed to represent Catherine Howard (1520-42), Henry VIII's fifth wife. Her downfall came when Henry learned of her premarital affairs. However, since no authentic portrait of Catherine is known, this identification has not held up.

Because the painting belonged to the Cromwells for centuries, it is more likely that she was a member of that prominent family. She may be Elizabeth Seymour (1513?-1563), daughter-in-law of Henry's powerful government minister Thomas Cromwell and sister of Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour. Elizabeth Seymour was a maid to Queen Anne Boleyn (executed 1536), then lady-in-waiting to four more of Henry's succession of wives, including her sister Jane, who died in childbirth in 1537.