Academic | Posted 10.12.2018

Portrait Miniatures of Mary, Queen of Scots

 c.1578 and mid-18th century

Mary, Queen of Scots was born on the 8th of December, 1542. Stonyhurst Collections care for a remarkable group of objects related to her, including her Book of Hours and a thorn from the Crown of Thorns given to her on her marriage to the French dauphin in 1558 (on behalf of the British Jesuit Province). Stonyhurst also possesses two beautiful portrait miniatures of her, one painted during her lifetime and the other nearly two centuries later.

The first, measuring 21mm by 28mm, states her age as 36. This dates the portrait to around 1578, halfway through her 19 year imprisonment in England. Very few contemporary portraits of Mary have survived, though she is known to have encouraged the creation and dissemination of images among her supporters. During her captivity her then-gaoler, the Earl of Shrewsbury, gave permission for her to sit for two portraits. Miniatures were also used by her to spread her image; she gave one to an attendant on the morning of her execution in 1587. The Stonyhurst portrait displays a clear political intention. On the left, she is shown with the crown and sceptre, symbols of a reigning monarch, despite her having abdicated as Queen of Scotland in 1567. Her coat of arms, on the right, suggests she claimed the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland at the time the portrait was painted.

The second miniature shows the more ‘romanticised’ view of Mary, an image which became popular among Catholics in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though the exact date of the piece is unknown it bears the monogram of Peter Paul Lens, a noted painter of miniature portraits in the middle of the 18th century. Lens’ father, Bernard Lens III, was the miniature painter at the courts of George I and George II, and taught a number of the royal children the skill of painting in miniature. A similar portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots by Bernard Lens exists in the collection of the V&A. The miniature at Stonyhurst is perhaps most notable for its astounding quality in such a small size; it measures only 10mm by 12mm.