New discovery - a portrait of the young James I & VI

January 25 2012

Image of New discovery - a portrait of the young James I & VI

Picture: Philip Mould

A quick note about a picture I've recently found; above is a portrait described in a minor auction house as a 'Portrait of a Young Girl'. Underneath the old varnish and dirt I found an original inscription identifying the sitter as 'Jacobus', King of Scotland, painted when aged 9. The face-type was recognisable from the well-known portrait of James aged 8 in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which is by Arnold Bronkhorst, then court artist in Edinburgh. Our portrait uses the same head type, but with a slightly more adult form of formal court dress.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the picture is what lies beneath it. When cleaning the portrait, I noticed a third ear emerging from James' forehead. An infra-red photograph of the picture, below, revealed that it had been painted on top of another, much earlier portrait of a saint. The so far anonymous saint is holding a chalice, and his hands can be seen clasped in prayer. The integral frame is original to the earlier picture; the portrait of James was painted straight on top of the saint, and within the existing frame. The picture of the saint looks Netherlandish, perhaps early sixteenth century, and by a good artist. One can speculate as to why the picture was over-painted, but it was probably something to do with the move against religious imagery in Reformation Scotland. And since the painting of the saint was made to a piece of good quality imported oak, it would have made sense to re-use it rather than destroy it.  

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