EDINBURGH, Scotland – A ghostly image of a Scottish queen who was executed for allegedly plotting to return the United Kingdom under her reign to Roman Catholicism in the wake of the Reformation went on view for the first time in 450 years, Scotland’s Portrait Gallery said on Saturday.
An unfinished, whispy drawing of a woman bearing a regal likeness to Mary, Queen of Scots, was discovered under another painting during an X-ray analysis of a portrait of Scottish aristocrat John Maitland, the museum said.
“An x-ray of the painting went on exhibition in Gallery Three on Saturday,” the museum said.
The canvas, attributed to Adrian Vanson, a court painter from the Netherlands who worked for Mary’s son, King James VI of Scotland (who was also James I of England), shows Maitland, who acted as the king’s Scottish Lord Chancellor, in formal attire.
There are not many contemporary images of the queen, who was forced to abdicate in 1567, then imprisoned by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England and executed when linked to serious plots for an uprising.
Mary’s portrait may have been painted over because exhibiting her could have become dangerous following her execution in 1587.
Christopher Baker, the gallery’s director, described being able to see her face again as “a fascinating discovery.”
The painting is dated to 1589, two years after the execution and was found in Ham House, south-west of London.
“It shows that portraits of the queen were being copied and presumably displayed in Scotland around the time of her execution, a highly contentious and potentially dangerous thing to be seen doing,” said David Taylor, a curator at the National Trust which currently runs Ham House.