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Mrs Jane Small, formerly Mrs Pemberton

  • Object:

    Portrait miniature

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca.1536 (made)

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with Art Fund support, and the assistance of the Murray Bequest and an anonymous donor

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Portrait Miniatures, Room 90a, The International Music and Art Foundation Gallery, case 2 []

When Holbein painted this image in 1536, it was virtually unknown in England for anyone other than courtiers to be recorded in a portrait. Until then portraiture had been a part of the funeral traditions of the powerful rather than a celebration of more modest lives. This beautiful miniature, however, shows that almost from the moment of its invention the portrait miniature was not exclusively a court art. A coat of arms, painted on a piece of vellum long associated with this portrait and set in the lid, identifies the sitter as ‘Mrs Pemberton’. This identification had always been something of a puzzle, since Mrs Pemberton appeared to be the wife of an obscure country gentleman living in a Northamptonshire village, far from both the court and Holbein’s practice in London. Recently, however, the evidence has been reinterpreted, and the more likely explanation is that the sitter was Mrs Jane Small, whose maiden name was Pemberton. Jane was the wife of a prosperous London merchant, Nicholas Small, and they were close neighbours of Holbein. It is not known if she was painted for a particular occasion, or why she is shown wearing a red flower and two ears of corn and holding a leaf.

Place of Origin

England (made)


ca.1536 (made)


Diameter: 52 mm

Descriptive line

Portrait miniature of Mrs Jane Small, formerly Mrs Pemberton, watercolour on vellum in a decorated case, by Hans Holbein, ca. 1536.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Foister, Susan, with contributions by Tim Batchelor Holbein in England Tate Publishing, 2006. ISBN: 1 85437 645 4.
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1985, pp. 38-39
Strong, Roy. Artists of the Tudor Court: the Portrait Miniature Rediscovered 1520-1620.. London: The Victoria and Albert Museum, 1983.
Marks, Richard and Paul Williamson, eds. Gothic: Art for England, 1400-1547. London: V&A Publications, 2003. 496 p. : ill. 1851774017 (hbk.) 1851774025 (pbk.).

Lorne Campbell ‘Holbein’s Miniature of “Mrs Pemberton”: The Identity of the Sitter’, Burlington Magazine (1987), vol CXXIX, pp.366-371

Labels and date

Portrait of Jane Small
About 1540
Hans Holbein the Younger

Jane Small was the wife of a London cloth Merchant. Her social status is reflected in her relatively simple costume. The red carnation at her bosom is perhaps a reference to her betrothal. This probably took place around 1540 and may have been marked by this portrait.

Body colour on vellum
Painted in London
Inscribed in Latin 'In the year of her age 23'

V&A: P.40-1935. Purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund
Cat. []


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