Whilst Bone, however, thought the sitter to be Christina, Queen of Sweden, the sitter is in fact her lady in waiting and reputed lover, the Countess Ebba Sparre, later Ebba de la Gardie.

This enamel by Henry Pierce Bone is a copy, as is identified on the reverse, of a work by Sébastien Bourdon, which is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington [inv. No. 1952.5.34]. Whilst Bone, however, thought the sitter to be Christina, Queen of Sweden, the sitter is in fact her lady in waiting and reputed lover, the Countess Ebba Sparre, later Ebba de la Gardie.

Queen Christina, who commissioned the work by Bourdon and in whose collection it remained, was one of the most remarkable monarchs to have reigned in early modern Europe. The daughter of Gustavus Adolphus II, the hero king of Sweden who had brought the country to a position of unprecedented power and influence during the Thirty Years’ War, she was thrust into political prominence aged only six following the death of her father in battle. Crowned king – and not queen, a title to which no political power was affixed in Sweden...

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This enamel by Henry Pierce Bone is a copy, as is identified on the reverse, of a work by Sébastien Bourdon, which is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington [inv. No. 1952.5.34]. Whilst Bone, however, thought the sitter to be Christina, Queen of Sweden, the sitter is in fact her lady in waiting and reputed lover, the Countess Ebba Sparre, later Ebba de la Gardie.

Queen Christina, who commissioned the work by Bourdon and in whose collection it remained, was one of the most remarkable monarchs to have reigned in early modern Europe. The daughter of Gustavus Adolphus II, the hero king of Sweden who had brought the country to a position of unprecedented power and influence during the Thirty Years’ War, she was thrust into political prominence aged only six following the death of her father in battle. Crowned king – and not queen, a title to which no political power was affixed in Sweden – Christina astonished contemporaries by the unconventionality of her rule. She was a woman of voracious intellectual and artistic interests, who succeeded in persuading the esteemed French philosopher Renee Descartes to visit her court for the purposes of founding an academy, although this was never realised.

Perhaps most unconventional of all, however, was Christina’s personality. Raised as a boy by her father, as a woman she eschewed many of the trappings of femininity that were expected by the standards of the day. One contemporary observer remarked that there was ‘nothing feminine about her but the sex. Her voice is masculine, and so is her manner of speaking, her movement and gesture […] her skirts alone discover her to be a woman’.[1]

It is in part for this reason that Christina was rumoured – even by contemporaries – to have had female lovers. Countess Ebba Sparre was one suspected love interest. The daughter of a courtier, she had been taken into the care of Queen Christina following the death of her father. Much remains ambiguous about their subsequent relationship, but it is clear from the historical record that the two were very close. She was known to Christina as “La belle dame”, a mark of affection that was in itself extraordinary given that Christina generally held her female courtiers in low regard for what she perceived as their feminine weakness. They also shared a bed. Although this was not unusual by the standards of the day, Christina liked to challenge her courtiers to imagine the possibilities, embarrassing the English parliamentarian Bulstrode Whitelocke, for instance, with the provocative observation that the Countess Sparre was as beautiful inside as she was on the outside.[2] Christina’s influence extended even to Ebba’s attempts to find a husband, persuading her to break off an engagement with one suitor in order that she could marry another.

In 1654, however, aged only twenty-seven, Christina abdicated the throne. She had, in a move of typical independence, renounced the Lutheran faith that she was required to uphold and decided instead to become a Roman Catholic. Unable to remain in Sweden, she travelled to Rome, where she established herself as a major patron of the arts (although she never quite gave up her aspirations as a ruler – attempting to claim the throne of no fewer than three countries). Whilst abroad, she kept up a correspondence with the Countess Sparre which, although it is marked by passionate expressions of sentiment, cannot in the historical context be taken as definite proof of a romantic relationship between the two, a question that will likely remain tantalisingly unanswerable.

Although Christina returned to Sweden on one final occasion in late 1660, she never again saw Ebba Sparre. Despite Christina’s belief that she had followed her to Hamburg, Ebba Sparre was by this point physically and emotionally exhausted. None of the three children of her unhappy marriage had survived infancy and by this point her husband, too, had died. She did not outlive Christina’s visit long, dying in 1662, a year after her departure.

Copies of the works of the old masters in enamel were among the specialisms of Henry Pierce Bone. He had been trained in the medium by his father, also called Henry, and refined his skills at the Royal Academy Schools, where he registered at the age of sixteen and first exhibited in 1799. Bone only became a specialist in enamel, however, following the death of his father in 1834, exploiting his early training to become his father’s successor. Although Bone also executed ad vivum likenesses, his métier was in copies after the Old Masters. He carefully labelled the majority of his creations – indelibly, as the auction catalogue of his posthumous sale notes – so that they can be readily identified. The detail on the reverse of this work, for instance, stating that the painting was at the home of Joseph Neeld (1789–1856), confirms that this is the same painting that is today in the National Gallery of Art, Washington and is additional confirmation that during the 19th

century the true identity of the sitter had been lost.

[1] ‘Some Account of the Life and Writings of Christina Queen of Sweden’, in The Works of Christina Queen of Sweden (London, 1753), pp. xiii-xiv.

[2] V. Buckley, Christina Queen of Sweden (London, 2004), p. 97.

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