Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Work of a Moment: the Mysterious Ghost Girl Portrait in the North Carolina Museum of Art

Above:detail from NCMA.67.13.6
The most curious portrait I've come across in a long time, and maybe ever, is this portrait of a long-necked Elizabethan or Jacobean ghost girl who bears a spooky resemblance to the famously long-necked and ultimately beheaded Anne Boleyn. The sitter also resembles Boleyn's daughter Queen Elizabeth I.
I have no idea what to make of this portrait, which resides inside a small but impressive collection of mysteriously unidentified English portraits in the North Carolina Museum of Art.
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

This small collection in the North Carolina Museum of Art has some beautiful Elizabethan and Jacobean portraits. I need to visit there soon.

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!