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A set of six carved ivory portraits of important personages, including Julius Caesar, King Richard III, Queen Elizabeth of York, Queen Catherine of Aragon, Lady Jane Grey and Mary Queen of Scots. Each on an oval ivory ground, surrounded by an ivory laurel wreath, and presented on a rectangular brown velvet frame. The personages are identified on hand written paper labels to the reverse of each frame.
Portrait busts of important historical personages were a favourite subject for 19th century ivory reliefs. Sculptors would carve large unified series of these portraits, which collectors could then pick and choose from, amassing a portrait gallery in miniature that reflected their own historical interests. Highly unusual here is the predominance of historical women, perhaps suggesting that this collection was selected by a female patron.
The majority of the figures included here are members of the British monarchy, and many of them are interrelated. Richard III (1452-1485) was the last Plantagenet King, although his line could be said to have continued through his niece, Queen Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), who married the Tudor King Henry VII in 1486, establishing a new monarchical dynasty. She went on to be mother- in-law to Queen Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), the first of Henry VIII’s wives, and great-grand- mother to both Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) and Lady Jane Grey (1536/37- 1554), who both caused political unrest through their claims to the English throne. Lady Jane Grey ascended the throne for nine days after the death of Edward VI, before being captured and executed by his sister Mary Tudor. Mary Stuart reigned as Queen of Scotland (and, briefly, France) but was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James, and was later convicted and executed for plotting against Queen Elizabeth I.
The final portrait plaque is of Julius Caesar (100-44 BC), the Roman general and statesman whose leadership marked the end of the Roman Republic, and ultimately the beginning of the Roman Empire. Although well loved by the common people of Rome, he was assassinated by a group of his fellow senators, who were angered by Caesar’s power grabbing reforms.