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All Walks Beyond the Catwalk


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Adam de Colone, Margaret Graham, Lady Napier, c. 1626.


Pale-skinned and auburn-haired, Margaret Graham looks straight at the viewer. At the time of this painting, she had been married for eight years and had four children. Described as "a woman religious, chaste and beautiful" by her husband, Sir Archibald Napier, we know from his memorial that Margaret died soon after this portrait was painted. Her husband held important positions in the courts of James VI and I and Charles I, who was crowned in 1626, the year this portrait was painted. Archibald was a staunch supporter of the monarchy, attracting criticism from Scottish puritan groups later in life.


Margaret is shown wearing the elaborate fashion of the Jacobean court. Her low-cut black overdress shows off the pale skin of her chest. The dress is trimmed lavishly with gold thread and pearls at the collar and below its fashionable pointed bodice. It opens to reveal a red velvet underskirt patterned in gold, and again at the sleeves to show her white linen jacket, elaborately embroidered with flower motifs. These decorated jackets, some of which still survive, were extremely fashionable for court ladies in the early 1600s. White lace features prominently in the outfit, at her cuffs and in the wired stiff collar that forms a semicircle behind her shoulders.


By the early nineteenth century this portrait hung in the tower of Merchiston Castle in Edinburgh - which still exists as part of the Napier University Merchiston campus - alongside images of Margaret's father, John Napier (who invented logarithms); and her younger brother, James Graham, who fought in the civil war on behalf of the monarchy and is known as the "Great Montrose".


Adam de Colone was a Scottish-born painter who trained in the Netherlands, and was responsible for many portraits of the Scottish and English aristocracy.


Want to find out more? Useful links on external websites:

Margaret Graham (Scottish National Galleries)

Adam de Colone

Archibald Napier  

John Napier

James Graham

Merchiston Castle

A seventeenth-century embroidered jacket (V&A)

Reading on seventeenth-century fashion (V&A)




Adam de Colone, Margaret Graham, Lady Napier. Oil on canvas. Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

(Purchased 1984). PG2608.

Image (c) National Galleries of Scotland.