“Queen Catherine of Braganza as St. Catherine”: Picturing Piety and Female Agency at the Restoration Court
My thesis examines Jacob Huysmans's portrait of Queen Catherine of Braganza as St. Catherine, a portrait that can be categorized as strikingly dissimilar from its precedents and contemporaries. The portrait is unusual in the manner in which the Queen's pose, hairstyle, gesture and gaze appear to belong in an image of a saint, rather than a portrait. Together, these elements create a performative portrait historiae of such theatricality that the Queen can be said to embody the role of her name saint, rather than pose with attributes. Through this embodiment and the employment of traditional Catholic iconography, the St. Catherine role portrait establishes an identity for the Queen, one which I argue presents her as a pious Catholic.
The first section of my thesis looks at how the challenges faced by Queen Catherine, together with contemporary reports of her unattractive appearance, have shaped past and present literature on her reign. My examination of her historiography focuses on how these circumstances, particularly Anti-Catholicism and her rivalry with King Charles II's mistresses, have defined the popular image of Queen Catherine. Unlike the image of the barren, unpopular and fervently religious Queen that these texts propagate, the visual analysis of the St. Catherine role portrait that follows demonstrates how Queen Catherine fashioned her own identity.
The second half of my thesis looks at the St. Catherine portrait through its referents to Catholic iconography, particularly the Queen's saintly gaze and the compositional importance given to the saint's spiked wheel. These similarities are made clear especially when compared to images of St. Catherine and the Magdalen. Peter Lely's portrait of Barbara Villiers as St. Catherine demonstrates not only the rivalry in place when the Queen ascended the throne, but the comparative religiosity of the Queen's portrait. Also taken into consideration is the place of St. Catherine in the program of the Queen's public imagery, which included portrait medals, prints and the John Dryden play Tyrannick Love. Through these diverse sources, a picture emerges of precisely how, in such adverse conditions, Queen Catherine of Braganza forged a public identity of Catholic piety.
0377: Art history
0733: Gender studies