Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Mysterious Ghost Girl Portrait in the North Carolina Museum of Art

Above:detail from NCMA.67.13.6
This is one of the strangest and most beautiful Elizabethan portraits I've come across. It's part of a masterwork collection of brilliant portraits kept in Raleigh, North Carolina. The woman bears a remarkable resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I. The portrait, and costume, seem intent on emphasizing her long neck offset with a jagged choker and a blood-red heart pendant. Combined with the thick white make-up this creates an altogether spooky effect Tim Burton would approve. Who is this ghost-girl courtier? 
Above: beautiful detail from NCMA.67.13.6
Detail: Unknown Woman NCMA left hand with cord-tied ring
Note: all comparison images in this post are used for education purposes and are available on wikimedia.

Above: detail from Robert Peake's Procession portrait c 1600 at Sherbourne Castle (image via wikimedia) and Unknown Woman (NCMA).
Expect some updates to this post.

This small collection in the North Carolina Museum of Art has some of the most beautiful Elizabethan and Jacobean portraits in the world. Their collection originated in high aristocracy, and the artists are amazing. The sitters are all power players, and it matter who they are, but it also matters who painted them, and when. 

From the North Carolina Museum of Art website:


  1. What a stunning portrait. It appears almost like a memorial portrait to a dead relative; it has a mournful face; well to me anyway.
    It would be nice to imagine it as QEI's sister, Mary Stuart, but it bears little resemblance to known images.
    I had a quick look on the NCMA site, and the researchers say that many of the attributions for this collection are clearly wrong, yet they don't share the evidence which this statement must be based on - which is a shame. They even dismiss a lengthy family book from the 1800's which shows this portrait and some of the others, stating again that sitters and attributions are wrong. I can understand refuting the artists - families liked to enhance their reputation by "choosing" famous names - but to refute the sitters must need solid proof.
    As for the Ghost Girl, surely that specific jewel is listed in some family inventory just waiting to be paired with this beautiful face :-) We may never know, but the family seem sure it was Lady Catherine.

    Thanks for sharing Lee.


  2. I just now discovered your blog while looking at portraits, and it might be possible that this portrait is Arabella Stuart. Their face shape is very similar when the portraits are looked at side by side. Great blog, love it!