1580 Bathory Portrait Found:
Obscure 435 Year Old Master Painting Identified As That Of Elizabeth Bathory
Copyright © 2016 Jozef Borovský. All Rights Reserved.
The original portrait
It has been impossible to really know what Elizabeth Bathory looked like in life. The only two portraits known to exist of her likeness come with their own sets of controversy. No longer! It is our firm belief that a period high quality portrait of Elizabeth Bathory does indeed exist. The painting is a forgotten sixteenth century original portrait of the Countess painted when she was only 20 years old. It has languished in obscurity in terms of the the portrait's subject for more than 400 years, though not without appreciation of its sheer aesthetic beauty by its several past private owners. Her accomplishments and most particularly the controversy surrounding her life make this painting an extraordinary and extremely rare object to even exist, as you can appreciate.
The actual and original 1580 Elizabeth Bathory portrait was recently 'discovered' by its current owner at a Sotheby's of New York Master Paintings auction held on June 4th, 2015. The painting itself has been verified by art experts, and offered for sale as an original work of art, painted by Anthonie Blocklandt van Montfoort in 1580, titled Portrait of a Lady, three quarter length, in a ruff with matching lace cap and cuffs.(1)
Per Sotheby's own condition report, it is an oil on panel, signed with an initial and dated upper left: '1580 / .B.'. It is 50 1/4 x 37 1/2 inches or 127.6 x 95.3 cm in size. The panel is beveled and constructed of five vertical boards. It is cradled on the reverse by a lattice of wood to hold the five vertical boards tightly together. There is some retouching to the panel joins which has now discounted slightly, notably in the pale fabric of the sleeves and in the sitter's face to the left of her right eye. There is some slightly discolored retouching to the craquelure through the left side of the her face. The paint surface overall is a little dirty beneath a slightly discolored varnish. Inspection under UV is impeded by the milky and uneven varnish though retouching is apparent along the aforementioned joins and there appears to be scattered retouching through the darks of the robe and through the hands though relatively little through the face. It is mounted in a carved black wooden frame. The portrait was also featured in Sotheby's Magazine, Jan/Feb 2015, Dressed for Excess, by Jonquil O'Reilly.
The Significance of the Date,
Elizabeth Bathory was born in Nyirbator, Hungary in 1560, and raised at Ecsed Castle, about 200 kilometers away, just east of Budapest. At fifteen, in 1575, she was already married. The year of the portrait's creation, 1580, puts her at 20 years of age, about right for the beautiful young woman depicted in the portrait.
The Significance of the Cryptic Initial,
We believe that the cryptic initial
.B. simply stands for Bathory and the person that marked this painting did so after her death in 1610 so as to preserve the portrait's identity. We believe that person was most likely George Pech, a Viennese merchant who was charged by Elizabeth Bathory herself with the sale of many of her more valuable moveable assets between 1604 and 1610. But why the cryptic initial '.B.'?
Before we answer this question, it is important to know that when Elizabeth Bathory married in 1575, it was not just she took her husband's family name, but her husband, Francis Nadasdy, took her family name as well. Officially, their legal name became, Bathory-Nadasdy. They were starting a new dynasty. Their children too, were Bathory-Nadasdys. In January 1604 Francis was murdered. Elizabeth was murdered in December of 1610. Following her murder, however, Elizabeth was not only excommunicated by the Vatican, but condemned to memory (aberacht) by imperial decree by the King of Hungary, Mathias II Habsburg, and passed into law by the Imperial and Hungarian parliaments (diets). Her names
Elizabeth Bathory and
Elizabeth Bathory-Nadasdy were declared illegal and thus she became a non-person. It became criminal to speak, write or bear her name anywhere! Even objects visibly identifiable with Elizabeth Bathory were to be destroyed if found. Thus, anyone possessing any of her former possessions that wished to preserve them would have either removed or masked her name so as not to run afoul of the law. Legally, Elizabeth Bathory was referred to as the
Lady Widow Nadasdy. Even her surviving son, Paul, for example, was forced to drop his mother's
Bathory family name from his, thus becoming simply a Nadasdy, as are all his descendants to this very day.
The irony of the cryptic
.B. is that like so many items, it undoubtedly saved the portrait from destruction but failed to preserve the portrait's significance which gradually faded into obscurity over the years and centuries that followed.
Neither Sotheby's, nor any of their employees, nor any persons under contract to Sotheby's claimed this to be a portrait of Elizabeth Bathory at the time of the June 4th, 2015 Master Paintings auction.