The Weiss Gallery is proud to exhibit a veritable jewel-like portrait by the celebrated court portraitist Corneille de Lyon (c.1500 – 1575), which depicts the French princess Madeleine de Valois (1520 – 1537), who was briefly the Queen Consort of James V of Scotland (1512 – 1542).
Her tragically short life, and fleeting reign as James’s consort, gave her the posthumous title of ’Scotland’s Summer Queen’, and pivotally, her death precipitated the British royal lineage we know today, providing us with a fascinating historical ’what if?’.
Shown this July in reference to her posthumous title, we look forward to highlighting this masterful portrait to visitors in person and online. This viewing room will elaborate on her short life, the imagery of this portrait, and touch-on how different British history might have been had she lived.
We encourage those who can to visit the gallery to view this painting in person. It will be prominently presented in the main gallery during London Art Week (1 - 16 July).
Should you have any queries, please contact us via
Telephone: +44(0)207 409 0035
We look forward to hearing from you
This beautifully preserved portrait by the Valois court artist Corneille de Lyon depicts Madeleine of France (1520 - 1537), the favourite daughter of the venerable French king, François I (1494 - 1547). The singular virtuosity with which Corneille has captured the young princess's sweet and somewhat wistful expression places this portrait amongst the most ravishingly beautiful and endearing of all Corneille's oeuvre.
From French Princess to prospective Queen of ScotlandA beloved daughter immortalised twice
Madeleine was born on 10th August 1520, the third daughter of François I (1494 – 1547) with his first wife Claude of France (1499 – 1524). François is considered one of the most celebrated monarchs in French history and, amongst other things nurtured the genesis of the French Renaissance period. Amongst many significant cultural achievements, he brought Leonardo da Vinci to France; standardised the French language; and formed a political affliation with the Ottomon Empire.
Madeleine, who was thought to be her father's favourite daughter, was first painted by Jean Clouet in c.1522. This painting, previously with The Weiss Gallery, is one of only ten portraits fully attributable to the artist, who was considered the founder of the modern tradition of French portraiture. Shown with an elaborate teething-rattle, this small-scale portrait shows her as a delicate, yet poised toddler.
At the time Corneille's portrait was painted, some time between September 1536 and May 1537, the sixteen-year-old princess was being courted by King James V of Scotland (1512 - 1542).
What is she wearing?
Madeleine is here depicted in a French court costume comprising of a slashed velvet black dress with Italianate sleeves of white silk. It is very similar to that worn by other members of the Valois royal family around this date, especially that worn by Catherine de'Medici in another portrait by Corneille, also from 1536 (Polesden Lacey, National Trust).
Most prominently featured are her jewelled head-dress and necklace, with distinct, lozenge-shaped diamonds interspersed with pearls and rubies. The small rubies - their size consistent with a virgin bride - are the alter ego of roses in the lore of lapidary, and both are primary attributes of Venus. The pearls represent purity and, like Venus, are born of the sea and the shell. Consequently, the jewels worn together are appropriate signs of Madeleine’s enduring love for her husband-to-be.
The gilt-casing for these jewels has been rendered by the artist in real goldleaf, which was discovered during technical analysis.
The King and Queen of ScotlandJames Stewart and Madeleine de Valois
James V, who was noted for his intelligence and virility, travelled to France in September 1536 to find a French princess as his wife under the terms of the Treaty of Rouen which cemented the ‘auld alliance’ between France and Scotland. James himself was painted by Corneille at this time, a portrait first with The Weiss Gallery in 1992 and famously reproduced in a commemorative stamp in 2010.
Although he was initially contracted and expected to marry Marie de Bourbon (1515 – 1538), a ‘daughter of the Prince of the Blood’, once at the court in Lyon, James instead became infatuated with the French king’s favourite, but sickly daughter, Princess Madeleine. The feeling was apparently mutual, and the young couple persuaded François I to break the contract with Marie de Bourbon, and give consent to their marriage. This he did reluctantly due to Madeleine’s notoriously delicate health; she was already suffering from tuberculosis and he feared her prospects in the damp, unforgiving Scottish climate.
To those who cautioned her on marrying the Scottish king, Madeleine reputably replied: 'At least I shall be Queen as long as I live, which is what I have always wished.'
Last PassageFrom Paris to Edinburgh
The couple were married at Notre Dame on 1 January 1537, after which they waited till the milder weather of spring for their departure for Scotland. It seems likely that her father also wanted to delay her departure to spend more time with her in case she never returned.
On the young royals' arrival in Leith on 19 May 1537 Madeleine's health was fast deteriorating, and tragically on 7 July 1537 she died at their palace, Holyroodhouse, reportedly in her new husband's arms, before she had even had an official coronation or reached the age of seventeen.
The circumstances of her sudden demise and its effects was romaticised in later centuries, the 'Chamber Book of Days for England and Scotland' (1869) noted:
"[Upon] Landing at Leith...the young queen, full of love for her husband and his country, knelt on the shore, took up a handful of sand, and kissed it, invoking God's blessing upon Scotland.
She was received in Edinburgh with triumphs and shows of unexampled grandeur, with, what was far better, the affectionate reverence of the entire people. But the doom had already been passed upon her.
She withered like an uprooted flower, and only forty days from her arrival, lay a corpse in her husband's palace. The death of this beautiful young creature...made a deep impression on the national heart and it is understood to have been the first occassion of a general mourning assumed in Scotland."
What If?Had Madeleine survived, generations of Britain's royal family would not have been born
Madeleine's reign was so short - not even two months - that she became known as James's 'Summer Queen', and pivotally, her death precipitated the British royal lineage we know today, providing us with a fascinating historical 'what if?'.
Had she lived to produce an heir, there would have been no Mary Queen of Scots, (daughter of James V by his second wife, Marie de Guise), who famously challenged her cousin Elizabeth I for the English throne.
Mary's son, James VI & I, would not have been born or succeeded Elizabeth I, nor would the English and Scottish crowns have been united on his accession. His own son, Charles I would not have been born and thus the brutal Civil War and Cromwell's Interregnum would never have happened.
Indeed, there would have been no Caroline Restoration, no Jacobite rebellions, and the Hanoverians would never have succeeded to the English throne meaning, ultimately, Queen Elizabeth II would not be here today.
THE ARTISTCorneille de la Haye, known as Corneille de Lyon (c.1500 – 1575)
Corneille de La Haye, called Corneille de Lyon, was a Protestant Dutch émigré artist and one of the finest portrait painters of the French Renaissance. His art was strongly influenced by the tradition of the portrait miniature, following the lead of Jean Perréal (b.after 1450 – d.after 1530), and in this respect his work also shared an affinity with his near-exact contemporary in the French royal court, François Clouet (c.1516 – 1572).
Corneille above all achieved a delicate naturalism in his portraiture, executed with sensitivity and refinement. He arguably captured more humanity in his diminutive likenesses than any other portraitist of his time. All his works are bust- or half-length, lit dramatically from the side and usually set against a green background, as here. On this scale, Corneille conveys an intimate rapport, even though in our portrait of Madeleine, she averts her eyes with a degree of regal remove.
It is uncertain whether Corneille was apprenticed in his native city of The Hague, as nothing is known of him before 1533, when he was first recorded in the Valois court as painter to François I’s second wife, Eleanor of Austria (1498 – 1558). In 1541, he was appointed official painter to the Dauphin (later Henri II (1519 – 1559), and ultimately at Henri’s succession became Peintre du Roi.
Corneille’s studio was extremely prosperous until c.1565, and it may be that a decline in his fortunes was precipitated by the reversion of Lyon to Catholicism at that time. In 1569 the painter and his family, despite all the protection they could call on, were forced to recant. Nonetheless, the artist’s sons, Corneille de La Haye II (b.1543), Jacques de La Haye and his daughter Clémence de La Haye, were all painters, and the family continued to be active as artists until the 18th century.
The objectThe painting's structure and condition
The painting is painted on a wooden support, probably French oak. The infrared image of the painting, illustrated here, shows the presence of a freely-applied underdrawing using a dry carbon-containing medium (likely charcoal or graphite), which outlines most of the image, including the sitter's face, her hair, eyebrows and eyes, as well as the dress and its decorations, the jewelry, and the headdress.
Thin dashes mark the position of the nose and a dark line, which defines the bottom part of her chin, consists of a black paint probably used to strengthen the drawing. A few historic damages have been repaired and appear dark in the infrared image.
The oak panel support is in a very good preserved state and the paint layer is in excellent original condition. The paint is stable and secure. There is one pin-prick loss of paint to her forehead and a very slight thinness to the right of the background. Fine details are very well preserved and there is no indication of any previous conservation intervention.
Conservation and analysis
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THE SUMMER QUEEN: Madeleine of France (1520 - 1537), Queen Consort of Scotland